Ranjit Roy ChaudhuryBMJ 2015; 351 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h6474 (Published 01 December 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6474
- Jeetha D’Silva, Mumbai
Ranjit Roy Chaudhury was the undisputed renaissance man of Indian healthcare. In a career spanning over 50 years he contributed to many areas of health, including clinical pharmacology, medical education, research, clinical trials, traditional medicine, and public health.
Born in Patna, Bihar, during the British Raj, Roy Chaudhury witnessed the final years of India’s struggle for freedom before independence in 1947. Shortly thereafter, he enrolled at the Prince of Wales Medical College, Patna. First prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru was laying the groundwork for a “new India” with science and technology at its heart, and he urged the youth of the country to join in the task of building the nation. Although he did not wear his nationalism on his sleeve, Chaudhury’s actions throughout his life indicate a deep commitment towards improving healthcare in the country.
One important contribution was the setting up of the specialised Doctor of Medicine (DM) programme in clinical pharmacology at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, in 1978. Vijay Shanker Mathur, retired professor of pharmacology and therapeutics at the College of Medicine and Medical Sciences, Arabian Gulf University, Bahrain, and a former colleague of Chaudhury at PGIMER, recalls: “He was a pioneer in the specialty of clinical pharmacology in India. Not only did he start the first DM programme in the discipline in the country, he was determined to set very high standards for the programme right from its inception.”
Roy Chaudhury drew on his experiences at Oxford—where he was the first Indian doctor to be awarded a Rhodes scholarship for a DPhil programme—and his stint as head of the biology division at the Ciba Research Centre in Mumbai, to ensure that the DM programme at PGIMER was world class. “He ensured that the department became a robust hub of research, promoting the finest talent, encouraging free expression of ideas, getting funds and equipment, and inviting many internationally reputed clinical pharmacologists,” said Mathur. “He was an inspiring teacher,” said Reginald P Sequeira, professor and chair of the pharmacology and therapeutics department, Bahrain. “During my formative years, I benefited in many ways from his mentoring. While pursuing an academic career, the need to multitask, integrate advances in drug discovery science into medical curriculum, awareness about the social responsiveness of the researcher, were the ultimate lessons I learnt from him,” Sequeira said. He completed his PhD at PGIMER under Chaudhury’s supervision.
In 1991 Chaudhury returned to India after a long stint with the World Health Organization. Soon after, he became involved with public health programmes and policy making. In 1994 he set up the Delhi Society for Promotion of Rational Use of Drugs, through which he and his team helped improve access to medicines at hospitals run by the Delhi government. Sangeeta Sharma, professor and head at the Department of Neuropsychopharmacology, Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences, New Delhi, said it was Chaudhury who had the “vision and conviction” to develop the programme.
“Before it was started, access to drugs at government hospitals in Delhi was only 25-30%, but once it had been implemented, access improved to 90%.”1 The model has now been adopted by more than 20 states across India and in several other countries, including China.
In 2005, former colleagues and students compiled a book on Chaudhury, entitled The Catalyst: A Tribute to a Professor. In his foreword to the book, Halfdan Malher, director general emeritus of the World Health Organization, described Chaudhury as “having a unique strength in being able to combine infectious enthusiasm for institution building and building up people without sacrificing scientific standards and scientific integrity.”
Over the past few years, Chaudhury became actively involved in developing policies on clinical trials. He was a member of the 1980 committee that drafted the first ethical guidelines on research in human subjects for the Indian Council of Medical Research. More recently, Chaudhury was appointed chairman of the expert committee to formulate policy guidelines and standard operating procedures for approval of new drugs and clinical trials, set up by the government of India. He had expressed concern over the decline in the number of trials being conducted in the country and hoped that the new policy would help change the situation. “India must become an active centre for ethical clinical research,” he said at an event held by the Indian Society of Clinical Research in early 2014.2
For his contributions, Chaudhury received the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian award, in 1998. Despite his accolades he continued to be a humble doctor, academician, and healthcare planner. In a television interview some time ago, he said: “I just did whatever I was asked to do.” His peers and students, however, know that whatever Chaudhury did, he demonstrated extraordinary vision and commitment.
Ranjit Roy Chaudhury leaves his wife, Manda, and three sons.
Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6474
Ranjit Roy Chaudhury (b 1930; q Prince of Wales Medical College, Patna, 1954; DPhil, FRCP Ed), died from cardiac arrest on 27 October 2015.