Raman Gangakhedkar is a distinguished Indian scientist who is Scientist ‘G’ & Head, Epidemiology & Communicable Disease Division, ICMR, New Delhi. Dr. Gangakhedkar became the face of the ICMR when he regularly appeared on the TV screen to brief the country about the planning and execution of testing protocols for COVID-19.
Dr. Raman Gangakhedkar was born in 1962 (age 58 years; as in 2020) in Mumbai, Maharashtra. Since his childhood, he was very inquisitive and had developed a scientific temper at an early age. He did his schooling from a Marathi-medium Zila Parishad school. He did MBBS from the Government Medical College, Aurangabad. Dr. Gangakhedkar also did a one-year training course in Masters in Public Health from the Johns Hopkins University, USA.
Dr. Raman Gangakhedkar belongs to a Marathi family. There is not much information about his family.
Dr. Gangakhedkar is an eminent clinician and epidemiologist who is well known for his intensive involvement in devising guidelines for HIV management, as well as policy-making for HIV/AIDS control programmes at the national level. After his MBBS, he started his career as a paediatrician. In 1989, he jumped in the field of HIV/AIDS; at a time when this dreaded disease was no less than a stigma in India. Later, he shifted from Mumbai to Pune when National AIDS Research Institute (NARI) was established in 1993.
The Face of AIDS Control Programme in India
With his distinguished and well-articulated approach, Dr. Gangakhedkar became the face of the AIDS control programme in India. Soon after joining NARI in 1993, he started emphasizing over community involvement in controlling this dreaded disease. In an interview, while explaining major milestones in HIV/AIDS management in India, he said,
It was community involvement in decision making that proved to be the most important game changer. Going beyond just community mobilization, it involved sex-workers, MSMs and injecting drug users representatives sitting with the experts, and giving their opinions on policies and programmatic strategies to reach them.”
Another significant step, according to Dr. Gangakhedkar, was the national investment for prevention of parent to child transmission (PPTCT) programme for the mainstream population in 1999, which, for the first time in the country’s history, paved the way for free anti-retroviral therapy for people living with HIV. Dr. Gangakhedkar was quite instrumental in the roll-out of the PPTCT programme in India. He says,
I realized that one cannot make the system responsive unless one goes for mainstream population. I thought PPTCT was one of the key areas for mainstreaming, as treatment was available then (in the late 1990s) to prevent mother to child transmission by providing short course zidovudine. I submitted a proposal, which was also supported by UNICEF, to the government of India, Thus began a feasibility study at 11 centres with zidovudine based Bangkok regimen, which was later replaced by the more feasible single dose nevirapine regimen. And in 2001 the PPTCT programme in India was started.”
When Dr. Gangakhedkar jumped in the field of HIV/AIDS, there was no treatment available in India, and he would often get frustrated by just doing the counselling of patients and nothing more than that. But he was determined and devised his own way to figure out the solution for this dreaded disease. He did extensive studies and tried to get the first-hand information from the hotspot areas infected with HIV. He says,
As a typical Indian male from a conservative Indian society, I initially felt very awkward when I started going to the red light areas for creating awareness about HIV/AIDS control. I had no idea who the sex workers were and how they lived. But over time, I saw from close range the problems faced by them. It made me understand what social exclusion was, making me more committed to my cause.”
With such positive initiatives from the government’s front, Dr. Gangakhedkar is affirmative about eradicating AIDS from India by 2030, He says,
Only by improving quality of services and intensifying our strategies will we be able to achieve the last 90 of the UNAIDS goal of maintaining virological load suppression for elimination of HIV/AIDS.”
The Face of ICMR During COVID-19
After serving as the Director of the National AIDS Research Institute (NARI) for a long time, Dr. Gangakhedkar joined the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in New Delhi as Scientist “G” & Head, Epidemiology & Communicable Disease Division. He became the face of ICMR when he appeared on the TV screen to brief the country about the status of COVID-19 at the National Media Centre in New Delhi. In one such media briefing, he justified the implementation of lockdown in the country and stresses over the need for basic medical awareness among the people, he said,
If I ask any very literate person that how many chambers does your heart have or do you know that where could your spleen be — one of the most potent organs you know — spleen is one of the most useful organs that defends your body very strongly, it is part of what we call as reticuloendothelial system. People will not be able to answer. Now if most literate people don’t know much about health and if you have to teach healthy lifestyle to every average citizen of this country, who may or may not have gone to school, he may be only functionally literate. There was no other way other than trying to enforce lockdown, trying to ensure that people understand social distancing.
- His colleagues consider him a very articulate person with a tinge of humour.
- He has expertise in clinical epidemiology of HIV infection, mother-to-child transmission of HIV infection, management of HIV infection, and Chemokine receptors.
- In 1996, he earned Fogarty Fellowship by National Institutes of Health the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA.
- In 2020, he was honoured with Padma Shri by the Government of India for his contribution in the field of Medical Research. After getting the honour, Dr. Gangakhedkar said,
I was able to do research on SIDs infecting women and children. I felt that the hard work we have done due to Padma Shri honour is being noticed somewhere. This could only happen due to the support of organizations working for AIDS awareness.”