Former city health officer P. Kuganantham no more

Updated - June 24, 2024 10:17 pm IST

Published - June 24, 2024 10:11 pm IST - CHENNAI

Dr. P. Kuganantham

Dr. P. Kuganantham | Photo Credit: FILE PHOTO

Former city health officer of Chennai Corporation P. Kuganantham passed away on Monday. He was 67 and had been ailing for a while.

As tributes poured in from persons associated with him, many recounted his expertise in public health and contributions to the prevention and control of infectious diseases.

SIMS Hospital where Dr. Kuganantham served as head and senior consultant of Social and Preventive Medicine, in a statement said, he passed away after a prolonged battle with ill-health.

Dr. Kuganantham, a native of Cheyyur, completed his medical education from Government Stanley Medical College and Madras Medical College. He entered the Chennai Corporation service in 1987, and later went on to head the Communicable Diseases Hospital (CDH), Tondiarpet.

In an article published in The Hindu — “Learning about how the city built its health infra” — on December 25, 2023, he had shared many of his experiences, including on how he introduced a round-the-clock outpatient one-rupee clinic for residents of slums in north Chennai and in making ‘vettiyans’ (burial ground workers) into permanent employees of the Chennai Corporation as burial ground assistants.

During the cholera outbreak in Chennai during 1992-93, it was his team that identified a new strain which he named Madras strain-non-01 0139. Dr. Kuganantham became the City Health Officer in 2007, and dengue cases between 2009 and 2014 saw him bringing in sector-wise individual house control measures during which workers visited 500 houses a week, to focus on clearing breeding sources. He had shared how the city’s slums are close to his heart and raised the need to improve slums without relocating the people.

K. Kolandaswamy, former director of public health and preventive medicine, recalled his association with Dr. Kuganantham from 1988. “He was an expert in infectious disease control. I was doing my post graduation in public health in MMC and went to him for training in infectious disease control when he was heading CDH. He was an expert in the prevention and control as well as case management of cholera and diarrhoeal diseases. He was an expert in vaccine preventable diseases as well as dengue,” he said.

A multi-faceted personality, Dr. Kuganantham was one of the members of the COVID-19 task force formed by the State government, he said, adding : “He is very knowledgeable, and has both theoretical and practical knowledge which is very rare. He immensely contributed to improving the water quality and cholera control in Chennai.”

J. Radhakrishnan, Commissioner of Greater Chennai Corporation, said Dr. Kuganantham’s death was “a great loss to public health”. “He is one of the most experienced public health experts that Tamil Nadu has had, and I had the privilege of working with him earlier during 1999-2001. During my previous tenure as Health Secretary, I have witnessed his work as city health officer and his immense contributions to CDH. Even after retirement, he was always available for any consultation and help,” he said.

Vijayakumar Chockkan, consultant, healthcare services, who has known Dr. Kugananatham for 40 years, said, “He was the best public health doctor, similar to Dr. Fauci (Antony Fauci) who changed the way we deal with AIDS, H1N1, Ebola, Zika and COVID-19 pandemic. He is your own Dr. Fauci.”

Raju Sivasamy, vice president, SIMS Hospital and Ravi Pachamuthu, chairman, SRM Group, in the statement issued, recounted his contributions to patient care. He had started the first COVID-19 vaccination centre at SIMS Hospital.

Vandana Gopikumar, co-founder, The Banyan, said, Dr. Kuganantham was a symbol of the goodness he stood for, and that set him apart from others of his time. In the three decades she had known him, she said he showed a capacity to recognise problems even before others could see them. He also stuck with the problem till the end, completely involved in it, until he could find a solution. His desire to touch as many lives as possible, through collaborative effort, endeared him to all. He was among the first official representatives to understand very well the role of well being and civil society organisations, she added.

P. B. Prince Gajendra Babu, general secretary, State Platform for Common School System, Tamil Nadu, in a statement, said his death was a huge loss for the medical field and society.

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