Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Kolkata: Durga puja and a leprosy trial Oct 2012

City celebrates Durga and we do our leprosy sums
My next stop was Kolkata, this city has managed to avoid India’s dash to modernity. The place is full of crumbling buildings and the stately Ambassador car tootles around the streets.  The architecture is a treat with many interesting 19 century buildings but this does not compensate for the obvious poverty. I also find the sight of rickshaw pulled by men offensive to human dignity.
Durga Puja is Kolkata’s big festival, many people would flee the city but I had arranged a review meeting of one of our leprosy studies so glimpsed the city festivities. Durga Puja lasts for 10 days and is when Durga renews her energy and defeats the evil in the world, bringing her female shakti energy. The festival happens around the temples and now these are covered in LED lights and each temple has its own flashing images, Ganesh or arjun. The temples also compete over designs and there are competitions between the temples with even sections for the most ecological temple. People are out all night at the temples and the police set up elaborate crowd control giving 2/3 road over to pedestrians. I found a list of nine things to do in Puja which included dancing, eating, catching up with friends, surrounding oneself with lights and wearing bling, sadly i had left my bling at home in London.
Instead of being out dancing all night in the temples we sat by day in a deserted leprosy hospital and toiled over the trial report. This is a big study involving 350 leprosy patients and we have added a new immune-suppressant drug to their treatment. As we have done the trials so people’s different strengths have emerged; Sundar Rao may be 78 and retired but he still has a very sharp statistical brain and keeps us on track.  Joydeepa is an enthusiastic clinician in West Bengal who skilfully enrolled and encouraged patients.  We also discovered that our young Tamilian physiotherapist has a great facility with data sets and understands what has happened to all the participants better than anyone else.  Disappointingly our treatment does not improve outcomes for leprosy patients with reactions.   Many trials do not have positive results and these results are just as important to generate to prevent people receiving useless treatments. But the intellectual satisfaction of having done a study properly does not compensate for the wish to find an improved treatment. 
Jan 2012

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