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Colothur Gopalan

Colothur Gopalan 130 x 180I was born on 29 November 1918 in Salem, Tamil Nadu, almost three decades before India became an independent nation and subsequently by far the largest democracy in the world. So I celebrated my 90th birthday in 2008. I received my MD from the University of Madras (now Chennai) in my home state, in 1945. Ever since then I have dedicated my life to public health, and specifically to nutrition. Nutrition is more than a national concern. It is a global human concern. It is this vision that has guided my entire long working life.

As in other areas of life, I have always believed that the Indian experience has much to teach other nations. It has been a source of great satisfaction to me that this vision is now shared by very many colleagues in South-East Asia and also, judging from my international experience, by many others in Asia generally, and in the Americas, Europe, Africa and elsewhere. My professional life began around the time the United Nations was born, and it has been my privilege to serve on very many UN expert committees concerned with public health.

My own research studies have shown that nutrition is a major factor in human development, and therefore in the development of nations. Studies of the pathogenesis of protein-energy malnutrition, and the nutritional rehabilitation of children with this condition, paved the way for the management of severe protein-energy malnutrition in children, and for food supplementation programmes targeted to the vulnerable segments of the population. I helped to ensure that India was probably the first low-income country to draw up its own recommended dietary allowances. I also emphasised the importance of publishing and popularising details of the nutritive value of Indian foods. My research work over the years has led to numerous publications in international and Indian journals.

As director of the National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad from 1963-73, I helped to nurture it into an internationally renowned research institution. Subsequently, as director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, I attempted to orient the nation’s medical research programmes to reflect emerging problems. In addition, as the founder president of the Nutrition Society of India, and of the Nutrition Foundation of India (a not-for-profit organisation based in New Delhi), I have been able to guide nutrition policies designed to improve the health of the Indian population.

I have had the pleasure and privilege of meeting, and discussing issues related to nutrition, with international scientists in many forums. Among the important positions I have been honoured to hold are the following: president of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences from 1975 to 1979; chairman, the regional advisory committee on medical research, WHO, from 1975 to 1980; chairman, technical committee of the World Health Assembly in the 1970s; member, WHO global advisory committee on medical research from 1977 to 1980; member, the WHO/FAO nutrition expert panel for over thirty years from the 1970s; and chairman, the Indian national committee on science and technology task force on nutrition in 1973. I also served the Indian National Science Academy as its council member from 1969 to 1971.

Among the many awards and honours I have been privileged to receive, the one I cherish most is the Fellowship of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1987. I also feel privileged to have had my work recognised by the Indian government with the award of Padma Bhushan in 2003.