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News Category: India Seminar Series

India Seminar Series: “Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World”


“Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World”, an event jointly organized by The Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute and the Harvard Global Health Institute and presented in New Delhi, examined the connections between human, animal and environmental health, and the response to disease outbreaks in India.

The panelists included eminent public health scholars and practitioners, including Ashish Jha, KT Li Professor of Global Health at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, and Director, Harvard Global Health Institute, Kayla Laserson, Lecturer of Epidemiology, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Director, CDC India, Preetha Rajaraman, US Health Attache for India and Regional Representative for South Asia, Department of Health and Human Services, and Urvashi Prasad, Office of the Vice Chairman, NITI Aayog.

Rajaraman discussed the transnational scope of epidemics and disease outbreaks, and how the US government is collaborating with India to prepare for and prevent disease, and provide surveillance and disease control programs. Laserson talked about training EIS (Epidemic Intelligence Service) officers to investigate and identify a public health outbreak, implement control measures on the ground and collect research to inform preventive measures.

She recalled an example of an outbreak that occurred during the lychee harvest season in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, where children started to suffer from seizures and an altered mental state with no apparent cause. The CDC pathogen discovery lab did not find an infectious pathogen to connect to this strange outbreak; however, the EIS workers, after much research, found that a toxin in lychees causes hypoglycaemia, which can be fatal if the child does not have enough to eat.

Prasad emphasised the need to make India’s central and state public health systems much stronger than they are. Most the of Center’s health budget goes to curative care instead of prevention and public health, but India cannot afford to rely on medical professionals. There is an acute need for a public health workforce to better manage health systems. 

Prof Ashish Jha moderated a conversation that included discussion about India’s preparedness for disease outbreak, the AAYUSH healthcare system, engagement with non-traditional partners, the need for focus on public health and the private sector’s responsibilities. The Mittal Institute will continue to engage in dialogues on public health in India and provide spaces for furthers conversations through such forums.

Trauma and Memory: Healing Through Art

Kabi Raj Lama


Kabi Raj Lama is a Nepal-based artist and former Visiting Artist Fellow (VAF) at the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, Harvard University. The VAF Program enables South Asia-based artists to spend a substantial period of time at Harvard, contributing to faculty and student scholarship and bringing valuable educational experiences from the university to their work.

The Mittal Institute’s Delhi office hosts a regular series of artist talks as part of our India Seminar Series. Earlier this month, Lama spoke at the Lalit Kala Akademi, India’s national academy of arts, which collaborated on the organization of the event in Delhi. His talk, entitled ‘Trauma and Memory: Healing through Art’, retraced his life story; he spoke of art, natural disasters and mental health. The event followed a 3-day workshop on stone lithography with the artist and students at the Akademi. 

Lama’s work reflects the complexities of disasters through an intimate portrayal of personal encounters. He also also looks at how art can be used as a form of healing from trauma. A contemporary printmaker who primarily works with lithography and the Japanese mokuhanga (woodcut) medium, Lama talked about his current project, with a colleague at MIT, that takes his work to a completely new dimension of art therapy and scientific inquiry.

He described his experience with mental health issues following two direct encounters with traumatic natural disasters: the 2011 tsunami in Japan and the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. He talked about his realisation that mental health is often ignored in the process of rebuilding after such disasters. The Mittal Institute is in the process of building a major project around mental health in South Asia – Lama’s talk showed why this is such an important issue.

Gender, Violence and Vulnerabilities of Adolescents in India


[L-R] Dr. Sanjay Kumar, Dr. Anita Raj and Shireen Vakil

Researchers in India have undertaken three major studies related to gender, violence and the vulnerability of adolescents. The research has been led by Anita Raj, Tata Chancellor Professor of Medicine and the Director of UC San Diego’s Center on Gender Equity and Health in the Department of Medicine. She is also a Professor of Education Studies in the Division of Social Sciences at UC San Diego.

As part of its successful India Seminar Series, the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, Harvard University, invited Professor Raj to present her work in New Delhi. Professor Raj’s work is especially pertinent at a time when the conversation around different aspects of gender has been center stage across the globe.

There was an overwhelming response to the event, ‘Gender, Violence and Vulnerabilities of Adolescents in India’, which was attended by key stakeholders across various fields, including non-profits, educators, students and lawyers. The discussion was moderated by Shireen Vakil, Head of Policy and Advocacy, Tata Trusts, and the opening remarks were given by the Mittal Institute’s India Country Director, Dr. Sanjay Kumar.

Professor Raj’s research is designed to inform the Government of India’s Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram Program (National Adolescent Health Program). Here are some of the key findings:

(I) Family violence and suicidality among adolescent boys and girls in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

  • 1 in 20 unmarried adolescents and 1 in 10 married adolescent girls reported suicidality in the past year
  • Suicide/self-harm is a leading cause of death for adolescent girls and boys globally. Family violence appears to increase risk for adolescent suicidality

(II) Process of marital decision-making among adolescent girls in rural Jharkhand.

(III) Partner and non-partner sexual violence against adolescent girls, and the effects of the Nirbhaya case on reporting of rape in India.

  • Non-partner violence and rape crime reports increased following the Nirbhaya case, in December 2012, but not uniformly across the country.
  • There is some indication that districts with higher media access had greater increase in rape reporting to police subsequent to the Nirbhaya case, supporting the value of media awareness to help address violence against women.

The session closed with many important questions, dialogue and various conversations around gender and violence among youth in India. There were discussions around the role of education, social norms and sex education that perhaps resonate with the ongoing conversation on gender around the world.  

More information:

McDougal et al 2018_Beyond the statistic-exploring the process of early marriage decision-making using qualitative findings from Ethiopia and India

Raj et al 2009_When the mother is a child- the impact of child marriage on the health and human rights of girls

Raj et al 2010_ Association between adolescent marriage and marital violence among young adult women in India

Raj et al 2014_Brief report_Parent-adolescent child concordance in social norms related to gender equity in marriage – findings from rural India

Raj et al 2014_Sexual violence and rape in India

Defluoridation of Water: Innovative Tech Solutions for a Spreading Health Crisis


Dr. Sanjay Kumar, our India Country Director, introducing the panel at the event titled ‘Tackling Fluorosis: Innovative technology as a solution to the spreading health crisis’ . To his right, Dr. Andrew Haddad, ITR-Rosenfeld Postdoctoral Fellow at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Dr. Sunderrajan Krishnan, Executive Director of the INREM Foundation (middle), and SriKrishna Sridhar Murthy, CEO of Sattva Consulting (extreme right).


The Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, Harvard University, put together a panel on defluoridation of water in India, titled, “Tackling Fluorosis: Innovative Technology as a Solution to the Spreading Health Crisis”. The event was part of a project funded by the Tata Trusts-Mittal Institute initiative called “Multidisciplinary Approaches to Innovative Social Enterprises”. The panel comprised of Dr. Andrew Haddad, ITR-Rosenfeld Postdoctoral Fellow at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Dr. Sunderrajan Krishnan, Executive Director of the INREM Foundation, and Srikrishna Sridhar Murthy, CEO of Sattva Consulting.

The project looks at scalable and affordable methods of removing fluoride from drinking water in fluoride heavy rural areas, where there is a dearth of access to even the very basic resources like proper nutrition, education, and clean drinking water. Excess fluoride in water can cause diseases such as skeletal and dental fluorosis, which, at their most severe, can result in severely stunted, abnormal growth, and damaged joints and bones. Haddad began the panel by elaborating on both the science behind current defluoridation technology used in India as well as the new technique evolved by Gadgil Lab for Energy and Water Research. The new technology, SAFR (Safe & Affordable Fluoride Removal), proposes using raw, locally-sourced bauxite ore to remove fluoride from water, a method which is 3 to 5 times cheaper, more energy efficient and sustainable than present methods of defluoridation.

Water filtration in Jhabua, M.P an area with high levels of fluorosis. Photograph credits:

Krishnan explained how the fluoride crisis in India is a structural problem, which can only be solved through the interaction of a number of factors such as proper nutrition, alleviating calcium deficiencies, and education. However, the people who generally suffer from fluorosis are those that live in extreme poverty and do not have access to enough food, let alone education. The villagers consider the symptoms of fluorosis in a child as a curse, and tend not to believe that a constructive change is needed in their water source as they have many other issues to contend with. Thus, Krishnan talked about the need for safe water, nutrition management, and behavioural change to work together to solve this crisis.

Lastly, Murthy from Sattva Consulting emphasized the importance of a strong structural ecosystem, where all stakeholders – government, scientists, NGOs, natural resource organisations, and the community – must work together if they want to solve the fluoride crisis on a large scale. He mentioned that Sattva works to join all the stakeholders, to scale up the research and implementation, and help to build local capacity.

Unspoken Story – A Conversation About Mental Health

As part of the India seminar series, The Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, Harvard University partnered with Sangath and It’s Okay to Talk for an event titled ‘Unspoken Story’. The event was a conversation between Vikram Patel, The Pershing Square Professor of Global Health, Harvard Medical School and two young women on their personal journey and experiences with mental health. This event was supported by Welcome Trust and the American Centre, and is also in partnership with Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS), USA.

The two discussants – Ishita Mehra, artist and mental health advocate, and Ishita Chaudhry, Ashoka and INK fellow, and founder and managing trustee of the YP foundation, shared their personal stories, and the journey they took from understanding their own mental health needs to breaking stigmas and seeking help. They shared their experiences with bullying and body shaming as teenagers, the lack of resources at the institutional level and the importance of family support. The conversation further branched out to socio-emotional learning, the importance of talking about mental health and treating it with the same respect as physical health. One of the guests at the event, Dr. Preetha Rajaraman, HHS Health Attaché, – “U.S.- India Bilateral Partnership on Mental Health” also shared her perspective from the context of the opioid crisis in the U.S., among other mental health challenges.

Audience members asked questions about finding the right resources on the internet; politics and its role in mental health; ideas like using kindness campaigns instead of anti-bullying ones to promote cultures of empathy. The evening concluded with remarks by Dr. Shekhar Saxena, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse (MSD), World Health Organisation (WHO), who re-emphasized the importance of the mental health conversation in the public health domain. He also shared two WHO resources on depression and mental health (links can be found below).

Such discussions we hope will bring not only a broader understanding of depression and mental health – how one can diagnose it and how to seek help; but also start conversations around the role of societies and education, how we can support and equip our institutions and define a clear vision for a mental health across India, South Asia and the world.

Two resources shared at the event:

  1. Let’s Talk (WHO) ––depression-let-s-talk-says-who-as-depression-tops-list-of-causes-of-ill-health
  2. I had a black dog, his name was depression –

Vikram Patel (right) in conversation with Ishita Mehra (centre) and Ishita Chaudhry at the Unspoken Story event hosted in New Delhi. (Photograph credit: Mohit Kapil)