A Dedication by the Firodia Memorial Foundation
Dr Srinath Reddy on Dr Bhan's contributions to
Dr Roger Glass on developing a vaccine together with Dr Bhan
Doordarshan News Interview
Dr Vinod Paul on Dr Bhan's life as a physician
Dr Shinjini Bhatnagar on Dr Bhan as a mentor
Dr. Maharaj Kishan Bhan was an Indian pediatrician and physician scientist. He received an M.B.B.S. Degree (1969) from Armed Forces Medical College, Pune. His love of children led him to an MD in Pediatrics from Delhi University, Delhi followed by a senior residency in pediatrics at Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi. He joined the All India Institute of Medical Sciences as a faculty member in 1980. Soon after joining AIIMS he began to carry out extensive research in the areas of diarrheal diseases and child nutrition with an emphasis on public health issues. His early research contributions while at AIIMS include but are not limited to demonstrating the safety and efficacy of exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months rather than 4 months for the first time in a developing country including in children with low birth weight; describing the critical combination of persistent diarrhea as a cause of childhood mortality, accounting about 40% diarrhea child death; and Co-Developing a low osmolarity oral rehydration solution, adopted as a WHO recommendation. While it is difficult to enumerate each one of these, please refer to Dr. Bhan’s CV for a more comprehensive list of his research contributions that have led to health impact.
His greatest legacy is unquestionably the development of a rotavirus vaccine based on a neonatal strain collaboration with Dr. Roger Glass, CDC, USA and other collaborators. He had an eye for the unusual – one such was the observation that some newborns at the neonatal unit of AIIMS did not develop diarrhea despite being infected by a rotavirus strain. This observation and the dogged pursuit of it led to the development of the rotavirus vaccine that is now used as part of the Universal Immunization Program in India. The vaccine was manufactured by Bharat Biotech International Limited (India) under a PPP has been licensed and was introduced into the national program by the Government of India.
At AIIMS he grew from a clinical physician to an academic physician and ultimately a physician scientist. The next big transition in his life was the role of Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, Government of India. Institutional administration was a new muscle for Dr. Bhan to build and he approached this exercise with the same rigor and passion as he did his research. He served this position with great distinction. He retired as the Secretary and Professor, Department of Pediatrics of AIIMS in the year 2012. Immersing himself into leading academic science, teaching and mentorship, he accepted a position at IIT, New Delhi as a National Science Professor and served as President of the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education & Research (JIPMER).
Dr. Bhan has been conferred with a number of honorary doctorates in recognition of his scholarly contributions including one by the University of Edinburgh. He was elected to the Indian National Science Academy, the Academy of Sciences, Academy of Medical Sciences and the Third World Academy of Sciences. He served the cause of Indian science by serving in mentorship roles at a number of prestigious organizations. He was the Chairperson of the Scientific Advisory Committees of a number of scientific academic institutions (National Institute of Immunology, National Institute of Nutrition); Chairperson of Governing boards or the President of major institutions like IIT, Guwahati, Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Post-Graduate of Medical Education and Research (JIPMER), Puducherry, the NCR Biotech Science Cluster, Faridabad to name a few.
His contributions and achievements in medicine, science and public service have been recognized with numerous rewards. The Padma Bhushan (2013), GM Modi Award (2019), Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award (1990) and the ST Achar Gold Medal (1984) are a few of the awards he received during his illustrious career.
In the end, he is and will always be best known for his contributions to child health. Apart from the rotavirus vaccine that has already been administered to 35 million children world over, his contributions have been central to the treatment of diarrhea in children, the use of zinc to treat and prevent childhood infections, a typhoid vaccine and treatment of malnutrition in children.