One of the India's eminent female scientists Indira Nath is to be named World's top women scientists by UNESCO. From Telegraph
In her role as Director of the LEPRA - Blue Peter Research Centre in Hyderabad (built with money raised through an appeal on the BBC children's programme) she works at the fore of India's fight against leprosy.
Of the numerous people who may contract the leprosy bacillus, not all of them develop the same form of the disease. Among those who develop lepromatous leprosy, its most serious form, Professor Nath identified a deficiency in the immune response system that was causing the disease. This discovery constituted a significant advance towards the development of treatments and vaccines.
When Nash started her career in the 1970s India had the largest number of leprosy patients in the world - 4.5 million people. Nath's work has helped see that number fall to less than 1 million today, with earlier detection and better treatment meaning that the awful disfigurements that were commonplace are now rare.
It is still not uncommon to find badly disfigured leprosy patients in India (In 2002, India had a prevalence rate of 5.7 per 10,000. See an interview at Nature with Indira Nath).
In related news, it is with great sadness that I learnt of the recent demise of Baba Amte, an avowed atheist, who worked tirelessly for the poor and voiceless, especially those affected by leprosy. The Economist has an obituary that describes the shocking event that started his social activities:
As he grubbed in the rain-filled gutter to pick up dog shit, human excrement and blackened, rotten vegetables, stowing them in the basket he carried on his head, he brushed what seemed to be a pile of rags, and it moved a little. The pile was flesh; it was a leper, dying. Eyes, nose, fingers and toes had already gone. Maggots writhed on him. And Murlidhar Devidas Amte, shaking with terror and nausea, stumbled to his feet and ran away.
Amte came back soon, carried the leper home and started caring for him. From then on Amte's life was devoted to social causes.