Pasteur Institute: The human side of medicine

Episode XXVII

The dominion of Northeast India in the early 1800s was not an easy task for the British to further their interests as they had to come face-to-face with some of life-threatening diseases like cholera, malaria, diarrhea, Kala-azar or black fever, and smallpox that had endangered the lives of the native people as well as the Europeans.

These epidemics were costing the British dearly – tea gardens in Assam, a booming business for the Europeans, were largely impacted as workers continued to succumb to these death-dealing diseases. This prompted a few British tea garden owners to come forward and push for the establishment of a Pasteur Institute in Shillong in 1915 to control diseases through the usage of the vaccine.

In this episode of Shillong Iconic Structures, we are featuring the Directorate of Health Services (Research), or as many would know it by its former name – the Pasteur Institute, Shillong. It is younger only to the Haffkine Institute Bombay (now Mumbai), the Central Research Institute, Kasauli and the Pasteur Institute of Southern India, Coonoor.

Located at Pasteur Hills just next to the Ganesh Das Hospital in Lawmali, this institute is the oldest and the only one of its kind in the entire North East Region. Never a day was its vicinity empty – the blaring sound of sirens and the daily rush of patients and attendants from one building to another hardly dampened the iconic sight of its premises.

The well-maintained lawn, the colourful sight of flowers, the fragrance emanating from the lilac Jacaranda trees that are found abundantly on the premises and the vintage street lights in the garden accentuate the heritage look of this structure.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane:

The establishment of the Pasteur Institute in Shillong, the then capital of Assam province, in 1915, was a result of the fear of the diseases that had consumed the British in the late 19th century. The tea industry in Assam suffered a massive blow with the spread of these epidemic maladies, to the extent that no labourer from outside the region was willing to risk their lives to come and work in the tea gardens, leading to a shortage of labour.

  Though the British had already set up biomedical research institutes in Mumbai, Kasauli, and Coonoor, communication and connectivity were a problem, and vaccines were not delivered on time. This engendered the British to set up a separate Pasteur Institute in the region.

This paved the way for the establishment of the Pasteur Institute in Shillong, the then capital of Assam province, in 1915.

The foundation stone was laid on November 4, 1915, by the then Chief Commissioner of Assam, Sir Archdale Earle. It was erected by public subscription in memory of Edward VII, who was the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Emperor of India from 1901 till 1910.

The construction of the main building was completed in early 1917 and Colonel R Knowles was appointed the first-ever Director of Pasteur Institute, Shillong.

The institute has contributed to the purpose of controlling diseases through research and production of vaccines like Neural Anti Rabies Vaccines and Cholera, Typhoid and Paratyphoid Vaccines from the years 1917-2005 and 1922-1996 respectively. The production of these vaccines was stopped as per the directives from the Government of India.

Over the years, the institute has been rechristened a couple of times – initially, it was known as the King Edward VII Memorial Pasteur Institute and Medical Research Institute which was then shortened to Pasteur Institute, Shillong. At present, it is known as the Directorate of Health Services (Research) but of course, its previous name – Pasteur Institute is easier to call to mind as it still rings a bell with the people of Shillong.

(Watch the full version of the story only on our YouTube Channel @TheShillongTimes)

Get real time updates directly on your device, subscribe now.

Comments are closed.