Biologist Dr Gangadeep Kang is the first Indian woman scientist to be elected Fellow to the 360-year-old Royal Society, London. Kang was part of the Royal Society of London’s announcement of the list of 51 eminent scientists elected to its fellowship in the year 2019.
A professor at Christian Medical College, Vellore, and executive director of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, Faridabad, Kang has been working on diarrhoeal diseases in children for over 30 years and has helped develop Rotavac, India’s first indigenous vaccine against the rotavirus that causes severe diarrhoea. Her research focuses on enteric infectious diseases and the consequences of intestinal infection on immune response, gut function and nutrition in children.
Over the past 20 years she has built a strong inter-disciplinary research and training program, where young faculty and graduate students are mentored before embarking on independent research careers. She leads a multi-disciplinary research team that conducts comprehensive and complementary studies in the description, prevention and control of diarrheal disease using state-of-the-art tools in the laboratory, hospital and the field. The laboratory has studied human and bovine-human reassortant rotaviruses in children with gastroenteritis in hospitals, the neonatal nursery and the community. Complementary studies on water safety, vaccines and treatment trials have evaluated interventions to effectively prevent or reduce diarrheal disease. Her work has led to practical interventions to prevent diarrhea, and continues to lay the groundwork for further interventions in the form of treatment techniques and vaccines.
In an email interview with Aparna M Sridhar, she speaks about the role of India in the world of science
Ancient India had been in the forefront of science and technology and medicine. What do you think should be done to revive the scientific temper among youth?
India led the world in science and medicine because society and rulers respected and supported science and scientists. Today, we need to understand that without investments in science and technology, no nation becomes an economic power. This investment needs to be all across the spectrum, including encouraging curiosity and exploration among our young people. Training of teachers, well equipped facilities and time set aside for exploration are important for school and college students, but society as a whole would benefit from high quality museums.
What does becoming Fellow to the Royal Society, London mean to your work?
I think this is an important recognition of the importance and impact of the work that we have done for children’s health in India. Too often, Indian media denigrates work done in India and ascribes all kinds of ulterior motives to researchers.
My team and I have worked hard for over two decades to build relationships with the communities we work with and for, and this recognition of the quality of the work we have done together makes us feel good that our contributions are being recognised.
Why has it taken so many years since the first Indian male scientist was made a fellow for a woman to achieve the same?
Indian women are not encouraged to stand out or stand up for themselves. Things are slowly changing, so I hope that we can accelerate the pace, so that soon there will be as many women as there are men.
What is your opinion on the status of public health in India? How does this impact on the impression that the world has of India?
India has a very long way to go with improving preventive, promotive and curative health to all of its population, and although things are improving, particularly with new programmes, our trajectories are much lower and slower than many countries that were similar or worse off than India not so long ago. India’s poor investment in public health and lack of equity in health has been a matter of concern within and outside the country.
As a very influential Indian scientist, what is your message to the rest of the scientific community in India.
We need to focus on ambitious, high quality research in whichever field we choose and where we are in the spectrum from discovery to impact on society. Scientists need to communicate outside their own circles and speak up and stand up for science especially when there are nay-sayers who capture public attention.