Dr Teresa Albuquerque tells about a simple Goan medical practitioner, who created an impact by his brilliant diagnosis of the disease, which he said was Bubonic Plague. He himself tended patients at great personal risk and at the same time conducted a vigorous campaign in the press to clean up the slums and exterminate rats, which he knew, were carriers of the disease.
A life-size statue of this brave and selfless personality, so free from sectional bias, stands to this day in the compound of the historic Framji Cawasji Institute overlooking the junction of Dhobitalao in Bombay. It was raised by the citizens under the auspices of the Bombay Municipal Corporation as a public monument in gratitude for Dr Acacio Viegas’ unique services to the city. And on 24 April 1956, under the Presidency of Dr Harekrushna Mahtab, Governor of Bombay, a public meeting was held in the Sir Cowasji Jehangir Hall to mark the birth centenary of Dr Acacio G Viegas.
What was the outstanding contribution of this individual?
In the year 1896 a mysterious disease appeared in the slums of Bombay’s Nowroji Hill. It spread like wild fire leaving sorrow and death in its trail. Its victims were among the rich and the poor, the young and the old. The virulence alarmed the authorities, baffled the medical profession and triggered off an unprecedented, mass exodus from the city. Business and commerce was hit badly, even the mill industry was brought to a grinding halt.
At this state, Dr Viegas, a simple medical practitioner, created an impact by his brilliant diagnosis of the disease, which he said was Bubonic Plague. He himself tended patients at great personal risk and at the same time conducted a vigorous campaign in the press to clean up the slums and exterminate rats, which he knew, were carriers of the disease.
Four teams of experts were brought in, and after they confirmed Viegas’ findings, the Governor of Bombay invited Dr W M Haffkine, who had successfully formulated a vaccine against cholera, to do the same for this scourge. Haffkine’s Bubonic Plague prophylactic saved the lives of thousands. Dr Viegas himself personally inoculated 18,000 persons in Bombay.
Acacio Viegas was born on 1 April 1856 in the village of Arpora in Goa. After his early education, he went to Bombay and joined St Xavier’s High School, from where he matriculated with distinction in 1874. Then he entered the Grant Medical College and got a first class at the L.M.&S. degree examination in 1880. Soon he set up practice at Mandvi and had many patients among the cosmopolitan community.
Wishing to do more for the public good Viegas entered the civic sphere and from 1888 till 1907 he topped the pools at elections to the Bombay Municipality. In 1906, he was elected President of the Corporation and made history as the first Indian Christian to achieve that distinction.
Active as a member of the standing Committee and of the Improvement Trust, Dr Acacio remained a champion of the poor and down-trodden. His attention was always focussed on bettering their lot and so he tried to curtail increases in the cost of public utility services. Promoted medical relief and the introduction of compulsory free education.
At the university, where he was a member of the Syndicate, Dr Viegas was a pioneer of the Faculty of Scientific Technology, of Portuguese language study into the curriculum, and furthered the cause of special colleges for women. Besides that, he was examiner in Medicine at the degree level and Foundation-Fellow of the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Well-known for his breadth of vision and his wide humanitarian sympathy, Dr Viegas was also a most respected leader of the Goans of Bombay. Despite his hectic schedule, he devoted his energies to involvement in the various social organisations of the community and had the utmost concern for educational and economic uplift of his fellow Goans.
This towering personality is a model for all of us to emulate.