Who was Dr. Dilip Mahalanabis, the man behind Oral Rehydration Therapy?

Dr. Dilip Mahalanabis is known as the pioneer of Oral Rehydration Therapy. The lesser-known medical practitioner was awarded various national and international laurels. Read to know more about him.
Who was Dr. Dilip Mahalanabis?
Who was Dr. Dilip Mahalanabis?

The pioneer of Oral Rehydration Therapy, Dr. Dilip Mahalanabis took his breath on Monday, at Kolkata hospital after a prolonged illness. 89-year-old Dilip was suffering from lung infections along with other age-related issues.

During the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation war, Dr. Dilip Mahalanabis was giving his service in the cramped refugee camps. The widely spread cholera and diarrhea compelled his discovery of ORS. His magical potion is called “the most important medical discovery of the 20th century’’, by The Lancet.

Who was Dilip Mahalanabis?

Dilip Mahalanabis was born on 12 November 1934 in Kolkata. He was an Indian pediatrician known for his contribution to oral rehydration therapy to treat diarrheal diseases. He conducted cholera and other diarrheal illness research at the Johns Hopkins International Center for Medical Research and Training in Calcutta, India, in the middle of the 1960s. When cholera broke out in 1971 among East Bengal (now Bangladesh) refugees who had sought asylum in West Bengal, he spearheaded the Johns Hopkins Center's effort to demonstrate the dramatically life-saving potential of oral rehydration therapy during the Bangladeshi battle for independence.


Throughout his journey being a medical practitioner, Dr. Dilip served in various roles and left his marks everywhere. Some of the designations he served on are as follows:

  • In the mid-1980s and early 1990s, he fulfilled his responsibility as a medical officer in the Diarrheal Disease Control Programme of the WHO. 
  • He also served as the Director of Clinical Research at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research (ICDDR, B), Bangladesh in the late 1990s.
  • In 1994, Mahalanabis was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.


In 2002, Dr. Dilip Mahalanabis and Dr. Nathaniel F Pierce were jointly awarded the Pollin Prize by Columbia University for their contributions to the discovery and implementation of oral rehydration therapy.

In 2006 Dr. Mahalanabis, Dr. Richard A. Cash, and Dr. David Nalin were awarded the Prince Mahidol Prize, also for their role in the development and application of oral rehydration therapy. 

The WHO subsequently embraced ORS as the standard treatment for treating cholera and other diarrhoeal disorders, despite initial skepticism from the medical community. As of right now, the ORS formula is advised by the WHO to consist of sodium chloride, anhydrous glucose, potassium chloride, and trisodium citrate dehydrate. Additionally, according to accounts, Dr. Mahalanabis never received a patent for his discovery, allowing it to benefit the greatest number of people.

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