Tracing an Institutional Legacy

Hasan Jawaid Khan


Safdarjang Hospital, in India’s national capital, is supposedly the country’s largest central government hospital if measured by bed strength. Today it is also among the largest multi-disciplinary healthcare institutions in this part of the world, catering not only to millions of Indian citizens but also providing much-needed and high-quality medical care to patients from neighbouring countries. Besides, the hospital has a number of firsts to boast of too.

Two years after its establishment in 1954, the country’s first Intensive Care Unit (ICU), and among the first ICUs in the world, was established here. Once again, in 1958, Safdarjang Hospital became the first hospital in the country to start a Nuclear Medicine Lab, which has been helping diagnose a number of thyroid and kidney conditions. India’s first Pain Clinic, Clinical Sleep Lab and Burns & Plastic Surgery departments were established here. And, of course, the Safdarjang Hospital also gave to the country its first Sports Injury Centre for muscle, ligament, bone and joint injuries.

These and many more such nuggets of information contained in the immaculately brought out and exceedingly well-produced coffee-table book – Footprints on the Sands of Time – highlight the innumerable contributions of this trailblazing institution to the country’s healthcare scenario over more than six decades of its existence as the Safdarjang Hospital and eighty years of its actual inception.

Crisply written to highlight some of the rarely known milestone achievements of the institution, the book is the handiwork of Dr B.L. Sherwal, Medical Superintendent, Safdarjung Hospital, and Dr Yatish Agarwal, a prolific & well-known writer and author, Former Head, Department of Radiodiagnosis, Safdarjung Hospital and currently Dean, University School of Medicine and Para Medical Sciences, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi.

The institution traces its birth to the Second World War, when in April 1942 American troops landed at the Safdarjang Airport in Delhi. To tend to the injured American soldiers some barracks were constructed near the airport and given the shape of a medical centre, which eventually came to be known as the ‘American Hospital’. The hospital was handed over to the Indian Government after the War.

Safdarjang Hospital has a number of other firsts to be proud of. For instance, it was here that the country’s first Pre Anaesthetic Clinic where doctors could examine the patient thoroughly before surgery. In 1982, it gave to the world the new surgical technique of amniotic arthroplasty for treating hip joint tuberculosis, and in 1984 the technique of free flap nose reconstruction to piece together a disfigured nose. There are many such crisply presented facts, each with its own potential story to tell.

While institutions seldom give much thought to documenting their historical legacy for the generations to come, Safdarjang Hospital’s effort to document and share its proud legacy is indeed appreciable.