|Isabel Kerr vaccinating a child, India. wikipedia.|
In those days many of the people were not aware of an important fact about leprosy because of misinformation and ignorance. It is one of the least infectious diseases as nearly everyone has some kind of immunity to resist it. This diseadoctorse, now under control all over the world in the past continued to spread, partially due to prolonged incubation period. In some cases it might take as much as 30 years. The unfortunate patients had to suffer unbearable Stigma and ostracism on account of disfigurement suffered by them. So, they were isolated and shunned, removed far away from the community. Fear of discrimination, poor treatment of them in the society impacted every aspect of their life-style. In its wake affected are their participation in the social activities, marital life, livelihood, economic security, and mental health. Leprosy is also the leading cause of permanent disability in the world and is primarily a disease of the poor.
In the colonial days, leprosy was a major problem and not that many humane people came forward and helped them. One bold Scottish Medical Missionary came to India to give them solace and the needed medical care so that they could move around as other ordinary people. What the Indian natives failed to do to alleviate their mental agony, Dr. Isabella kerr did it with dedication and commitments - giving hope and confidence to get cured from the disease.
Isabella"Isabel" Kerr (née Gunn) (30 May 1875 - 12 January 1932), a native of Enzie in Aberdeenshire, Scotland studied medicine at the University of Aberdeen receiving her MB ChB in 1903. Her parents were Mary Gardner and John Bain Gunn, a farmer.
In 1903 she married Rev. George McGlashan Kerr, who worked as a missionary in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). In England the couple offered their services to-gether in the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society Which, in 1907, sent them to Hyderabad, now in Telengana on Christian mission work.
Upon undertaking missionary work, not related to their field of interest, they realized the medical treatment given to the leprosy patients was inadequate and warranted serious attention. Considering the incidence of leprosy in this area and the urgent need for proper treatment of the patients at the right time in 1911 Kerr opened a leprosy center at the mission in Nizamabad, Telangana.
The news of her mission and dedicated work and medical treatment without any bias spread far and wide like summer bush fire. Consequently, the response was just overwhelming and she needed additional space and beds to accommodate them. Being a man of charitable disposition, the Nizam of Hyderabad helped her build the Victoria Treatment Hospital by donating land - 60 acres of land in 1913 at Dichpali (10 miles away from the town), and in 1915 larger and more permanent facility opened.
By the early 1920s, the hospital gained better name and had more than 120 buildings dedicated to leprosy related problems. Many buildings were built by the Nizam family members. The complex comprised 360 acres of land.
She worked closely with Ernest Muir who had experimented with the use of hydrocarbons to treat leprosy. Their centre at Dichpali became a leading center for leprosy treatment and cure and people in thousands were benefited at this center. In view of their dedicated services to the cause this dreaded disease and their establishment of a leading hospital to treat leprosy. patients, the British India government awarded Kaisar-i-Hind Medals to the couple in 1923. As ill-luck would have it, Kerr died in January 1932 (at the age of 56) and her husband George Kerr continued her mission until 1938 after which he got back to Scotland to lead a retired life. In the 1960s, the hospital founded by Isabella Kerr could take care of 400 patients. The incidence of leprosy in India has come way down. Isabella Kerr's name is permanently etched in the medical history of India related to leprosy. The words of John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of Methodism gave Kerr the needed inspiration:
“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
Ms. Kerr was described as “modest, shy and diffident, and reluctant to speak in public”. Hence few photographs are available and she was not like Albert Schweitzer, who did a great service to the humanity. Presently, the rehabilitation center near the hospital, it is said, is closed due to paucity of funds.