First epidemic hero
Statue of Dr Acacio Vegas outside Framjee Cawasjee Institute at Dhobi Talao. 

Breathing relief between virus waves, we should honour the Goan physician who discovered the bubonic plague that ravaged Bombay for two decades from its outbreak in 1896.

Not only did Dr Acacio Viegas identify the first plague victim – Lukmibai at his Mandvi clinic – but he also inoculated 18,000 residents cramped in narrow, sewer-infested lanes. They came for treatment afflicted by fever and lymph node swelling from bacterium spread by rats carrying infected fleas. Researching the disease’s quick and deadly spread, he urged the British authorities to act swiftly. Drains were sanitised to exterminate rodents, as were dock areas congested with warehouses.

The Bombay Improvement Trust, established two years later, specified anti-epidemic measures. The “63.5-degree light angle rule” determined distance between a building and its boundary wall for optimal ventilation. To ease south Bombay population density, middle city neighbourhoods were conceived. Midtown chawls had windows placed nearer their wall base, so even mill workers sleeping on the ground accessed fresh air.

The good doctor is also honoured as the first Indian Christian president of the BMC. Dr Viegas Street in Chira Bazar, Cavel village, is named after him. Besides, a commemorative statue stands nearby, outside Framjee Cawasjee Institute at Dhobi Talao.


MEHER MARFATIA

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