Dr Noshir Hormasji Antia, MBBS, FRCS (Eng), FACS (Honorary) (1922-2007) was an Indian plastic surgeon and biomedical researcher known for his work in developing reconstructive surgeries for leprosy patients and for his efforts in leprosy rehabilitation and community health advocacy.
He studied medicine at Grant Medical College in Mumbai, graduating in 1945, and then spent two years as a Captain in the Indian Army Medical Corps in Poona and the surrounding area. In 1947, he relocated to the UK to study plastic surgery under Harold Gillies. In 1952, he obtained a fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons.
When he returned to India in 1956, he began working with leprosy patients at Kondhwa Leprosy Hospital, developing procedures to reconstruct patients’ facial features. In spite of the lack of funding and facilities such as running water and electricity, he pioneered new techniques for correcting facial deformities caused by leprosy.
In 1958, Antia established India’s first plastic surgery centre (now known as the Tata Department of Plastic Surgery) at the J.J. Hospital in Mumbai. Antia fought against the discrimination suffered by leprosy patients, and it was here that he succeeded in admitting leprosy patients for treatment in a general public hospital for the first time. Antia also extended the department’s work into social and economic rehabilitation for leprosy patients, obtaining grants for programs to help patients re-integrate into the community.
Antia later established a postgraduate research laboratory at the J.J. Hospital, where significant research was done on the neurobiology and immunology of leprosy. His team made important discoveries about nerve damage in leprosy patients. The work at this laboratory led to the establishment of The Foundation for Medical Research (FMR) in Worli, Mumbai, in 1974. The FMR built on the research done at the postgraduate laboratory to further the scientific understanding of nerve damage from leprosy.
From 1968-70, he spent two years as a full-time Senior Visiting Scientist at the National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill in London, where he worked with Sir Peter Medawar and Richard Rees. Upon his return to India, he developed an increased interest in community health and became determined to improve health care services to marginalised rural populations. In 1972, he began a ten-year study with the women of Mandwa village, across the harbour from Mumbai. The program trained village women to diagnose leprosy in early stages and to immunise and treat patients. No new deformities were seen during the ten years of the study, proving the case for early diagnosis. In 1974, Antia founded the Foundation for Research in Community Health to continue to bring medical care to marginalised communities.
He authored over 350 publications in various fields, and served on many committees and panels, including the Indian Council of Medical Research, the Indian Council of Social Science Research, the Ministry of Health and Family Planning, the Planning Commission and the Planning Board of Kerala. He was President of the International Congress of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and the Indian Leprosy Association and the Association of Rural Surgeons of India. He was the recipient of many honours in recognition of his achievements, including the Hunterian Professorship of the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1962, an Honorary Fellowship of the American College of Surgeons in 1979, the Padma Shri in 1990, and the G D Birla International Award for Humanism in 1994.
‘Obituary: Dr. Noshir Antia, FRCS (Eng.) FACS (Hon.)’ Leprosy Review (2008) 79, 199 – 203. https://www.lepra.org.uk/platforms/lepra/files/lr/June08/Lep199-203.pdf
Antia, N.H. 'Some Personal Reflections on Leprosy.' In Naik,SS (ed). The Indian Leprologists Look Back. Bombay, 1990. pp. 3-11.
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