HERITAGE: THE SEEDS THE OJHAS SOWED

Published May 23, 2021
A sanatorium ward, as it stands today | Prof Amjad Siraj Memon
A sanatorium ward, as it stands today | Prof Amjad Siraj Memon

In the early 1970s, while passing daily through Business Recorder Road in Karachi, I never reflected on its former name, Deepchand Ojha Road, or on its significance. Years later, as nostalgia struck, I started exploring it. The name should have struck a chord. It carried the name of the benefactor of the Ojha Sanatorium, of course!

Since 2003, the Ojha Institute of Chest Diseases has been the third constituent institute of Dow University of Health Sciences. Yet, the journey commenced decades ago, and the foundation stone for the original sanatorium was laid some 82 years ago. The institute went through tumultuous times of war, political turmoil during Partition, and yet it not only survived but thrived.

The Ojha Family

So, who was Ojha? The quest led me to his descendent Kamal Ojha, a gynaecologist in London. I also found information in the book Great Personalities of Pushkarna Brahmin.

The Ojhas settled in Thatta, over a couple of centuries ago, coming from Jaisalmer in present-day India. They were known for their Ayurvedic skills. Ranchordas was a famous Ayurvedic physician who had four sons: Tejbhandas and Swamidas remained in Thatta, whereas Lalchand and Thakurdas lived in Karachi. Tejbhandas had a lucrative business of Ayurvedic products and fathered six sons. Two died in childhood. Deepchand was the eldest, and he and his younger brother, Aasanmal, were sent to Karachi for education. Aasanmal studied law in Bombay but returned to practise it in Karachi. Their younger brother, Sukhramdas, practiced Ayurvedic medicine; having been educated abroad, he established a flourishing practice in Karachi.

Deepchand started as chief clerk at the Karachi municipality, on completion of his studies from D.J. Science College, before being appointed chief clerk in the Karachi district court. While working, he passed the bar in 1897 and became a subordinate judge in Sukkur. However, later in 1902, he returned to Karachi, as the Registrar for Saddar Court. He then practised as an independent lawyer.

The Ojha Institute of Chest Diseases in Karachi, which now offers state-of-the-art healthcare and postgraduate training programmes in pulmonology and tuberculosis, began life as one family’s philanthropic venture

Deepchand became a councillor of the Karachi Municipality in 1908 and later chairman of its school board. He rose to be the vice president of the municipality. In the early 1920s, he also served as a member of the Bombay Legislative Council. He established the Deepchand T. Ojha School in Lyari around 1918-1920.

Deepchand Ojha
Deepchand Ojha

He married Ramabhai but none of her six pregnancies bore a child. Following her death, and persuaded by friends and family, he tied the knot with Choti Bai. They had a son, named Kishandas. Unfortunately, the son died in 1925, presumably of tuberculosis.

When Deepchand himself died in 1938, at the age of 66, he left part of his property in a trust under Sukhramdas to serve patients with tuberculosis. To that fund of 50,000 rupees, Sukhramdas further added 5,000 rupees. To materialise the project, the Ayurvedic Tuberculosis Relief Association was formed, with Mayor Jamshed Nusserwanji Mehta as chairman, Seth Manoobhai Doongursee as secretary and a board of trustees.

Expansion of the sanatorium

The government donated a plot of 127 acres in Deh Safooran for the tuberculosis centre. Dr Frimodt-Møller, the medical superintendent of the United Mission Tuberculosis Sanatorium of Madanapalle, Andhra Pradesh, advised on its design. Thus, on June 16, 1939, then provincial minister Nihal Das Vazirani laid the foundation of the hospital named after Deepchand T. Ojha. The construction was delegated to Velji Herka Patel & Sons.

An infirmary block of 20 rooms, an administrative block of three rooms, two houses — one for a doctor and another for a vaid (practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine) — four quarters for staff (donated by Dr Kaikhushro Spencer’s family) and a 30-room block for servants were erected. The complex was designed as 64 small cottages for the patients, 80 feet apart — some double roomed.

Each unit had a bedroom, kitchen, latrine and a veranda. All those cottages were raised through donations, each costing around 1,400 rupees. The donors put plaques in each veranda, for example, “In sacred memory of Khan Bahadur Dadabhai Munsiff died on 19th February 1910 — donated by his wife Goolbano D Munsiff”; “In the loving memory of Bachubai Nadirshaw Eduljee Dinshaw, erected by her brothers who miss her loss”; and “Built by Seth Jeewanjee Karimjee Mursiwalla in memory of his wife Bai Amtulbai.”

Seth Doongursee Joshi donated the recreation hall. Sir David Sassoon contributed the electric generator, which came from Poona, and constructed the power house. Sukhramdas built his bungalow at his own expense for periodic stays in the sanatorium. He served as the honorary manager. The project was formally opened by the Viceroy and Governor General of India Lord Linlithgow on January 8, 1942. Later, a musafirkhana [waiting room] and a chapel were added.

During World War II, the army requisitioned this facility to accommodate an American Army base, prisoners of war and Polish refugees. It was released back as Deepchand T. Ojha TB Sanatorium in 1946.

Patients were given a choice of treatment by a doctor or an Ayurved. The two dispensaries functioned separately. Those patients who could afford treatment donated to the sanatorium. The poor were treated for free. Their families in the cottage were provided facilities for cooking. Those who chose not to cook were offered the option of a local caterer who would supply them meals at their own expense.

Soon Partition saw the Hindu staff migrating to India. Sukhramdas left for Bombay in 1948. As a consequence, the sanatorium closed and the Ayurvedic Tuberculosis Relief Association became defunct. Only three of its trustees remained: Jamshed Nusserwanjee Mehta, Sardar Gabol and Mrs Shahani. It was handed over to the Government of Pakistan in 1948 but it remained non-functional. Through the efforts of Mehta, the sanatorium was restored in December 1949.

Plaque commemorating the Ojha Sanatorium’s opening ceremony, 1942
Plaque commemorating the Ojha Sanatorium’s opening ceremony, 1942

The sanatorium resumed under the aegis of the TB section of Jinnah Central Hospital. The complex bore a deserted look, and had no meaningful equipment left. It was revamped with a re-allocation of budget and staff and Dr Iqbal Yad was appointed the first medical officer incharge.

In February 1950, a group of 20 male patients were transferred here from Jinnah Central Hospital. Another batch of 20 female patients followed in March. It became the TB Annexe of Jinnah Central Hospital. Incidentally, as the sanatorium was being re-established, Sukhramdas died in Bombay in 1950.

The first effective antibiotic, Streptomycin, was discovered in the 1940s, revolutionising the management of tuberculosis. This was the first hospital in Karachi to offer Streptomycin injections.

The sanatorium operated under the leadership of Dr A.K. Shariff, Prof M.A.H. Siddiqui, Dr S.A. Hussain and Dr Yad, but was under the administration of the Superintendent of the Jinnah Central Hospital, until it became an independent hospital in December 1957. In this period, its bed capacity increased to 100, radiology equipment was updated, facilities for surgery enhanced and staff quarters added.

As it became an independent institute, Dr Shariff was appointed as its first director. With the advent of new, effective anti-tuberculosis therapy, sanatoriums around the world were being transformed. In 1958, it was obvious that the Ojha Sanatorium needed a major overhaul to modernise the facilities in all spheres. A scheme of expansion and modernisation, costing 47 lakhs, was approved in 1961. Around that time, Dr Yad returned as its director with the longest tenure, serving until his death on July 10, 1978. He oversaw the sanatorium through major milestones of development and led its path to a modernised institute. The work commenced by April 1962. The foundation stone for the hospital’s new main block was laid by the then Health Minister Abdul Kadir Sanjrani, in November 1962. The expansion work was completed in 1967 with the addition of five blocks, and was formally reopened in September 1967, by Begum Zahida Khaliquz Zaman, the health minister.

It now had a main hospital block, modern surgical theatre, fully equipped central kitchen facilities, an electricity sub-station, natural gas installed, properly laid paths and roads, automatic laundry and sterilisation, incinerator, a mosque and a hostel for nurses and staff quarters. The bed capacity increased to 350 with the additional five wards, radiology and laboratory facilities were upgraded, and the dispensary uplifted. The city established public transport links and the hospital acquired its own transportation. It now emerged as one of the largest full-fledged tuberculosis hospitals of the country. The institution now offered teaching and training as well.

A teaching institute and a modern facility for TB patients

In 1970, the Ojha Sanatorium was handed over to the health department of the Government of Sindh. 

The hospital was upgraded from the status of a sanatorium to the Ojha Institute of Chest Diseases in 1973. The chest clinic, now where the present Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT) is located, was a part of the Ojha Institute of Chest Diseases, and headed by Dr Ghazala Ansari.

In 1994, the institute was recognised by the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Pakistan (FCPS). It kept abreast with tuberculosis technology and research and, in 2010, was selected as a centre for multidrug-resistant TB management. Its laboratory is designated as a Provincial Reference Laboratory for TB. Established in collaboration with the World Health Organization, it provides free-of-cost healthcare. In recent years, an intensive care unit has been added. It offers approved postgraduate training programs for FCPS (Pulmonology), Diploma in Tuberculosis and Chest Diseases, Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Surgery, besides paramedical training.

The sanatorium started by the Ojhas, over 80 years ago, has journeyed to becoming a full-fledged university.


Sohail Ansari is a consultant physician based in Essex, UK Kamal Ojha is Consultant Gynaecologist and Honorary Senior lecturer at St George’s University Hospital, London

Dr Rehman Khan, Consultant Physician, Basildon University Hospital, helped in compiling the article

Published in Dawn, EOS, May 23rd, 2021

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