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May 29, 2006

Economics undergraduate wins $10,000 scholarship to fight TB in India

By Jennifer McNulty

Like his grandfather, Saurabh Mishra is a visionary.

Photo: Saurabh Mishra
Saurabh Mishra
Photo: Jennifer McNulty
Saurabh Mishra is among students to be honored June 9 at the Student Achievement Awards Ceremony. (See story on Student Achievement Week)

Mishra, a senior in economics, wants to raise public awareness about tuberculosis (TB) and provide treatment to at least 10,000 sufferers in his native India.

With a $10,000 scholarship from the Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship Foundation, Mishra is organizing a fundraising drive that will help him launch a major public health campaign in the Bihar region of India.

Mishra's work builds on the legacy of his grandfather, who opened a TB sanatorium in 1951. To date, the 100-bed facility has treated more than 80,000 people.

"In 1950, my grandfather left the luxuries of the United States for one of the poorest areas in India because he had this vision 50 years ago of eradicating tuberculosis," said Mishra. "But TB is still a problem. It is inspiring to me to see all his work and to try to complete his vision."

More than 400 million people in India are infected with TB, according to public health estimates. "That's more than the population of the United States," noted Mishra.

Like the common cold, TB is a contagious disease that spreads through the air. Most people infected with TB will not become sick because a healthy immune system "walls off" the TB bacteria, which can lie dormant for years. The chances of becoming sick increase among those with impaired immune systems, which is why the AIDS crisis has compounded the need for education and prevention, said Mishra. Curable with proper care, TB can be deadly if untreated.

"It is essential to reach out to people and increase awareness of TB. Because they are largely illiterate, we need to tell them about it," said Mishra, who envisions a mobile "TB camp" that would couple education, diagnosis, and treatment with literacy training. With sufficient support, doctors could administer polio vaccine as well, he said.

Mishra's grandfather, Muneshwar Pathak, was a physician working at a hospital in New York City when he heeded the call from the newly independent India for medical doctors. He left his adopted country and returned to India, where he settled in his hometown of Dehri, Bihar, and dedicated his life to public service.

The Jagjivan Sanatorium evolved from a modest five-bed facility to a full-fledged hospital with a laboratory and x-ray facilities. After medical breakthroughs allowed patients to return home without fear of infecting loved ones, the sanatorium's focus shifted to outpatient treatment. Pathak died three years ago at the age of 95, and the sanatorium needs revitalization, according to his grandson.

"We want to provide excellent care to the weaker members of our society and to those who cannot afford treatment," said Mishra, who was educated in India, England, and California. His goal is to take his TB-prevention campaign to every community within a 50-mile radius of the sanatorium and to treat up to 10,000 patients.

"We must treat those who suffer and prevent further infection if we hope to realize my grandfather's vision of eradication," said Mishra.

Mishra added, "Donald Strauss was a great philanthrophist, and I hope to do justice to his memory and his lifelong commitment to public service."

Mishra will use the scholarship funds to establish the Dr. Muneshwar Pathak Memorial Foundation for Rural Development, a nonprofit organization that will host a fundraising concert of world music at UCSC next spring. A student in UCSC's dual B.A./M.S. program, Mishra will earn a bachelor's degree in economics in June and will return to campus in September to start work toward his master's degree.

Each year, the Strauss Scholarships fund at least 14 public-service projects proposed by California college juniors. The late Donald Strauss of Newport Beach demonstrated a strong commitment to public service. His widow, Dorothy M. R. Strauss, established the foundation in 1997 as a tribute to her husband.

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