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Monday, May 27, 2024

NHS@75: Meet the Indian physician with the NHS, who fought through the pandemic and ensured timely vaccines for everyone

On 5 July 2023, the NHS completes 75 years of serving people and saving lives. All these 75 years, NHS has been on the forefront in providing help to people with medical emergencies. NHS has been a flag-bearer of saving lives during the deadly pandemic which swept the globe.

As NHS marks its 75-year anniversary, we at Asian Standard have chosen to pay respects to all medical warriors from South Asian community, who have been a part of the selfless service and have always strived to keep service before self.

Asian Standard spoke to Professor Dinesh Saralaya, Consultant Respiratory Physician, associate Medical Director /Associate Director for Research with the Bradford Teaching Hospitals. He played a key role in combating Covid-19 and developing vaccine for the same.

Having joined the NHS in August 1996, Prof. Saralaya completed both his graduation and master’s degree from Chennai in India, before coming to the UK.

Dr Saralaya recalls: “I started work at Doncaster. I finished my higher exams to get the membership of Royal college of Physicians in 1997 and then commenced my respiratory training in December 1997. After training in various regions, in East Anglia, Manchester and Leeds, I became a consultant at the Bradford teaching hospital in August 2004”.

Completing studies in India and coming to UK, an all-new country carries with itself a unique challenge.

Dr Saralaya agrees, “Challenges were there, getting used to a new culture. I have grown up in a culture which is very different from Britain. So, there was language, culture, the way medicine is practiced were completely different to what I have been taught.

“But, because the training in India is so good, when you come from a sound medical college, your foundation was very strong. You learn to adapt very quickly. I was lucky enough to pass my exams quickly. I didn’t do much of a junior doctor training, I became a registered doctor very quickly.

“I was able to join, my specialist training in respiratory medicine very soon. I was also very interested in research.”

Dr Dinesh Saralaya in his kit
Image: Dr Dinesh Saralaya

Dr Dinesh, being in the field of research and a respiratory physician, played a huge positive role in combating Covid during the Pandemic and played a leading part in developing a vaccine for Covid. The doctor tells us, in detail, how he set a foundation, right since 2004, to take forward the fight against Covid.

“So, after becoming a consultant with Bradford Teaching Hospitals in 2004, I started my own clinical trials unit in September 2009, and within five years, by 2014, it was one of the top five research units for Asthma. My areas of interests also allied very much to the health challenges of Bradford. Bradford has twice the national average of Asthma, my research was to do research and bring in cutting edge treatment in Bradford.

“Based on our track record in 2019, we applied to be the National Institute of Health Research recognised patient equipment centre, and of the 72 centres who had applied, five were chosen. We were one of them.”

Speaking of his role during the Pandemic he says: “As you know, in March 2020, the Pandemic hit us. During the pandemic I went to clinical medicine full time, because the hospital needed me, my patients needed me.  I used to be a part time physician, handling both patients and my research.

“I led all the covid treatment trials, you must have heard of the recovery trials, run from the University of Oxford. Almost every single hospital in UK took part in that trial. There were 30,000 participants taking part in the trial which is still going on.”

Dr Dinesh Saralaya meeting with religious leaders and spreading awareness on vaccination
Image: Dr Dinesh Saralaya

“I led the trial in Bradford, recruiting many South Asian participants. At that time there was a lot of scepticism in the South Asian community, whether this was a conspiracy, about various things, be it the treatment or hospitals. I worked for it too, I met religious leaders and enrolled South Asian patients for treatment.”

By June 2020, Dr Dinesh’s team discovered the initial cure for Covid.

“By July 2020 we were selected to run the Covid-19 vaccine trial, at that time there was no vaccine. We had to get a vaccine urgently. We were selected to run the NoVax vaccine trial, we were among the third highest recruiters of participants”.

NoVax finally got a vaccine license in 2021.

Dr Dinesh’s team did not stop here, he went onto research to run trials for Covid boosters to find out whether people needed a booster By August 2021, the team found that vulnerable people would need a third dose too.

Dr Saralaya says, “Throughout the pandemic, I was invested in inventing new treatments for patients with Covid 19. There was also a great risk, there were patients who were aged 50 and above, who were South Asian. There were many challenges, but we took the challenge and moved forward, to treat them, I myself was a diabetic at that time, but we chose not to shield, we went on to treat people”.

Bradford as a city has played a huge role in three vaccine trials and is now undergoing a fourth vaccine trial.

Dr Saralaya and others have continued their research in vaccine and now have a platform vaccine, which can serve as a foundation or platform to develop other vaccines to be pandemic ready for other vaccines.

Dr Saralaya says, “The scientific community is now better prepared, so we won’t be needing another lockdown like situation.”

Speaking directly to other South Asians who wish to join the NHS, he says, “Work had, keep pursuing your dreams. The foundations which medical colleges lay down in South Asia is very strong. Never forget the basics that you were taught in medical schools.”

Speaking about the NHS, he says: “The NHS is a very gratifying organisation; it has a lot of equality and diversity within the organisation. When I joined in, South Asian working in the NHS were very low, and now almost 30% of the workforce is from the South Asian community.

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