Christian Medical College: Ida Scudder’s legacy to the Vellore community

Dr Ida Sophia Scudder – the founder of Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore – breathed her last sixty years ago on this day. But her life and legacy continue to inspire hundreds of thousands across the world. An American by origin, Dr Ida spent her lifetime uplifting the community in Vellore through her medical practice. Her work is never more relevant than now when we are facing a pandemic. In this article, I have attempted to highlight some of the contributions of Dr Ida Scudder,  and others, which continue through CMC, Vellore. 

It would be hard to believe that the town which once greeted medical officers, who tried to vaccinate people to contain the plague, with sticks and stones would later be the first in the country to be polio-free. The person whose life and legacy was mainly influential in bringing this change was a woman physician by name, Ida S. Scudder. Dr Ida Scudder and the professionals at the medical college she founded – Christian Medical College (CMC) – transformed the community in Vellore to what it is today.

CMC, Vellore, is renowned globally for its many achievements in the field of medicine. One of the major contributions of the medical college, through which the legacy of Aunt Ida continues, is its community service. From Dr Ida Scudder’s efforts in containing the plague outbreaks to Dr Paul W Brand’s accomplishments in rehabilitating lepers and Dr T Jacob John’s leadership in eradicating polio and containing HIV/AIDS, CMC’s services to public health have not only impacted Vellore and India but has also influenced the world.

It all began one night at Tindivanam, Tamil Nadu, when 20-year-old Ida Scudder encountered a life-changing incident. Three men – a Brahmin, an upper-caste Hindu, and a Muslim – approached Ida seeking help for their wives who were in labour. Ida explained that she had no medical training, but her father who was a missionary doctor could help them. But none of them would agree. In Ida’s words, the Brahmin drew himself up and said, “Your father come into my caste home and take care of my wife! She had better die than have anything like that happen.” The Muslim also responded with similar words saying, “She had better die than have a man come into the house.” Ida could not sleep that night. She wrote about this incident later, “Within the very touch of my hand were three young girls dying because there was no woman to help them.” She spent the night in anguish, torn between a great life in America and the need to serve the people in India. Ida had come to Tindivanam only to take her ailing mother back to the USA. Until that night, she wanted to enter Wellesley College and “continue in the happy free life of a young woman in America.”

The next day, Ida sent a servant to check what had happened to the three women only to hear that all of them had died the previous night. She shut herself in the room. After much thought and prayer, Ida told her parents that she wanted to go home and study medicine to come back and help such women in India.

In 1895, Ida entered the Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia. It was a time when women were not welcome as qualified surgeons and doctors. Three years later, when Cornell opened its doors for the first time for women students of medicine, Ida transferred there for better opportunities. As Mary Pauline Jeffrey writes in her biographical account of Ida Scudder, some students at Cornell often “did things to make women feel that they were foreign bodies.” Nobody would have imagined then that about 50 years later, Ida would be admitting male students to the Women’s Medical College she founded at Vellore!

On January 1, 1900, Dr Ida Scudder landed in India. She started running a clinic in a 12*8 feet room at her house. Meanwhile, she worked toward realizing the hospital for which she had received a donation of $10,000 while in the USA. In 1902, the 40-bedded Mary Taber Schell Memorial Hospital opened. Her vision was that women should have equal access to quality healthcare as men, regardless of their religious or socio-economic status. In 1909, Dr Ida established a school of nursing and in 1918 she established a medical college for women. The medical college was called Missionary Medical College for Women. In 1945, it was renamed as Christian Medical College and in 1947 CMC opened its doors to male students.

The tiny clinic and the hospital thus grew to be the medical college that would have many firsts to its credit. Dr Ida was deeply connected with the community she lived in – a legacy that the medical college would become renowned for. This was never more relevant to us than now. In 1903, when the plague hit Vellore, as many as 17 people were dying every day. In 1904, the total number of cases in India had reached 1,100,000 before preventive measures showed any sign of success. At that time, along with the municipal commissioner, Dr Ida “sallied forth to grapple with the deadly epidemic. Into the homes of the community in Vellore these two went, enforcing sanitary measures and administering prophylactic inoculations.”

Half a century from then, Dr Paul Brand carried that torch making another mark in the community in Vellore. Realizing his life’s calling at CMC, Dr Paul established the New Life Center at Vellore to rehabilitate lepers and dispel the stigma that prevailed even among medical professionals. Dr Paul also performed the world’s first reconstructive surgery on leprosy patients at CMC, Vellore.

Paul Brand
From Left to Right: Drs Brand, Scudder, Balfour, Chandy. Picture Source:

A couple of decades later, Vellore became the first town to eradicate polio. An alumnus of CMC, Dr T. Jacob John led the initiative of making Vellore polio-free and later headed the national efforts in eradicating polio. In his own words in conversation with the journal Current Science, “Globally, Vellore was the centre conducting such basic and problem-solving research on polio from the mid-1960s.” Dr Jacob John headed the virology services at CMC from 1967-1995. During this time, he also played a key role in India’s efforts to contain HIV/AIDS.

Dr Ida Scudder’s legacy continues through the work of CMC. The medical college has produced some of the best doctors, surgeons and scientists in the country, who have been recognized for their work.  Of special note in the context of public health, epidemiology and community medicine are experts like Dr Gagandeep Kang, Dr T. Jacob John, Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil and others.

At this time, when the country is faced with an epidemic, Dr Ida Scudder’s legacy serves as a reminder of what empathy, compassion and boldness can help one achieve. It is her legacy that we need now – of providing quality and compassionate healthcare for all sections of society.


*All the quotations with no explicit mention of the source are from the book: Ida S. Scudder of Vellore (2014). By Mary Pauline Jefferey.


Bengaluru based start-up designs an anti-touch band

Grasp bionics, a Bengaluru-based start-up has devised an anti-touch band. The band stops people from accidentally touching the face.

As of today, there are 37916 active cases of COVID-19 in India and the epidemic has claimed 1886 lives. The increase in the number of cases led the government to declare a nationwide lockdown, which has now been extended for the third time. While these restrictions are in place, scientists and innovators are striving hard to fight the epidemic. With no vaccine or drug currently available, one can only take precautionary measures like physical distancing, restricted movement, hand hygiene and wearing masks.

A study shows that, on average, we touch our face about 23 times in an hour. And we know that a person can get infected with the virus if one touches the face after touching an infected surface. So, as we come out of this lockdown, touching the face can now be riskier than ever.

group photo-01
Team Grasp Bionics. L to R: Nilesh Walke, Vinay V, Arvind Sahu, Varsha, Abhijith R

Grasp Bionics, a Bengaluru based start-up, has devised an interesting solution to this problem. “We observed that however cautious we are, we tend to touch our nose and mouth. When it is intentional, we may do it after washing our hands. But most of the time it is accidental.” Vinay V, Co-founder & Director of Grasp Bionics, said. “We thought that a solution for this could be of huge benefit during the removal of lockdown. That is how we came up with this anti-touch band.”

The band restricts the movement about the elbow thereby the touch on the face. It is made of cloth and costs about 100 rupees apiece. The team is working with local tailors for mass production as it could also be a source of income for the tailors who may not have regular work during the lockdown and phased relaxation.

“We plan to make the band available for purchase in general stores & medical stores,” Vinay said. The team is looking for distributors, who can make their product available to the customers. They are also working on making the design open-source so that people can make DIY anti-touch bands.

Grasp Bionics is a MedTech company that builds bionic devices like prosthetic arms. Their flagship product PURAK is a wearable prosthetic limb that provides better control and sense for those who have lost their arms. The team was a winner of Elevate 2019, a program organized by Department of IT & BT, Government of Karnataka, to identify and fund 100 start-ups with innovative ideas.

Here is a video of how the band works. Place your order for the band here.

Climate change is real, let’s talk about solutions

Global warming and climate change have become an existential threat to humankind. In this article, Nanditha elucidates these ideas and explains how close we are to a global catastrophe if we do not act now. She also describes how India would be one of the worst-hit nations. 

Greta Thunberg’s rise to fame with the movement “School Strike for Climate Change”, which shone a light on the view that humanity is facing an existential threat due to human-made climate change. This reinvigorated the long-standing climate change debate: how much of a threat is it, and what are the best steps forward? Before we delve into debates, let’s take a quick look at what global warming is.

Global warming refers to the phenomenon of the increase in the Earth’s average temperature over a period of time. The Earth’s average temperature, which is 14.6 C, is increasing at a faster rate than usual.

Climate change refers to the more general changes happening to Earth, partly as a result of global warming. These adverse changes include shrinking mountains glaciers, melting ice caps (and rising sea levels), changes in flowering patterns, etc.

Global warming is caused by the “greenhouse effect”. CO2 and other air pollutants (methane, ethane, polychlorocarbons) get trapped in the atmosphere instead of escaping into space. These pollutants retain the heat from sunlight – like in a greenhouse, thereby increasing the global temperatures. There is sufficient data today to suggest that the causes of increased temperature started in the industrialization era, and aligns closely with the increase in demand and use of coal and other fossil fuels to generate electricity. The Climatic Research Unit, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA have all reported that the 20 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001, except for 1998. The warmest year on record was 2016.

Some of the most adverse effects of global warming may seem far away because they include imagery of melting ice caps, and polar bears losing their habitat in Antarctica. However, the effects are closer to home – it is predicted that South Asia, and particularly India will be one of the worst-hit nations in the world. India has the highest Social Cost of Carbon and thus, with a greater increase in the global temperature, the cumulative damage will increase. These consequences are represented as heatwaves, water shortage (already a threat in many regions of South India), sea-level rise, unpredictable precipitation patterns. Climate change is an intersectional problem. As we lose the power to predict harvest seasons, there will be a significant shift in the growth of important crops like rice. This could result in severe famine across the country and as much as a 9% decline in India’s GDP, due to reduction or stoppage of export. Increased sea levels pose a big threat to those who live in the coastal regions, with a legitimate possibility of destroying entire cities and towns, in a not so distant future. Without any surprise, the poor are the most vulnerable to these threats despite them contributing least to the problem.

With about 97% of actively publishing climate scientists agreeing on the man-made effects of rapid global warming, it is not a debate of whether there is climate change, but a debate on best solutions to go forward. Currently, the highest carbon emitter is China, contributing to 27% of the total CO2 emissions. The USA is a close second (15%), followed by the European Union (9%), and India (7%). But the per capita and total cumulative CO2 emissions are the highest in the USA (16%). Although India has increased coal demands due to rapid development, the per capita contribution has been low. Besides, India is also emerging as a leader in renewable energies. That majority of the new electricity generation capacity added in the past decade has been through renewable sources, offers hope. Despite a few countries’ efforts to strictly follow the Paris Climate Convention’s suggestion, USA has stepped back on provisions to curb greenhouse gases and pulled out of the Paris Accord1. These are extremely alarming and may set in motion a global scale of events that are detrimental to human lives as we know it.

The USA pulls out of the Paris Accord. Picture Source:


The Indian government has taken ambitious steps toward addressing climate change issues. For example, the usage of non-renewable sources to fuel India’s increasing energy demands is set to decline by 33% in the next ten years. This means that around 33% less non-renewable fuels will be used to generate the same amount of energy. This is just one of the many goals set forward by the country towards an energy-efficient, sustainable future. They look promising, given the previous achievements of the National Mission on Enhancing Energy Efficiency.

Such positive policies have also been adopted across the world. These measures are reassuring, but we have a long way to go. Perhaps Martin Luther King Jr’s words have never been more apt since his original speech, “Beyond Vietnam”: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

1 The Paris Agreement is a landmark environmental accord that was adopted by nearly every nation in 2015 to address climate change and its negative impacts. The deal aims to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels while pursuing means to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees”