By Dr. Luis Dias
(Published in Herald Sunday Mirror, Goa, 7 June 2009)
11 June marks the 60th death anniversary of a truly remarkable man, Colonel Doctor Victor Manuel Dias, Director of Health Services in pre-Liberation Goa.
His sudden death, at 57, at the peak of his illustrious career, due to a cerebral haemorrhage, in 1949, sent shock waves throughout Goa and also in newly-independent India. Tributes followed, in the local and the Indian press. In its obituary tribute, The Sunday News of India described him: “Generous to a fault, discharging his Hippocratic obligation with a scrupulous regard for the poor, the best of companions, he was a fascinating personality, by whose loss his country and his people will be the poorer”.
The Sunday Standard, in its tribute added: “A profound scholar with an academic record of unusual brilliance, Victor Dias embodied a great family tradition. His father, General Miguel Caetano Dias, was Director of Public Health in Portuguese India for upwards of thirty years….Victor himself was a Doctor in Medicine of Lisbon University, a Doctor in Law of the historic University of Coimbra, and a Bachelor in Science, of Sorbonne, Diplomate of the School of Tropical Medicine in Lisbon. In Berlin where he studied for some years, he worked with Professor Friedman, discoverer of the well-known TB vaccine named after him, and later he spent a year at Carlos Forlamini’s world-renowned Mussolini Institute where lung collapse therapy was first discovered and developed. More recently he became interested in the new X-ray and radium therapeutics and went to Berlin to study them.”
Col. Dias was nominated to the Department of Health in the Portuguese colony of Angola , from where he was transferred to Goa in 1923. After several years as a Professor at the Medical College in Goa, Col. Dias was appointed Director of Public Health in 1947.
In his practice, his patients included the whole gamut of society of his day, and included the venerable Fr. Agnel.
For upward of fifteen years, Col. Dias was the special surgeon in charge of the body of St. Francis Xavier and had the duty of inspecting annually the Saint’s incorruptible remains and reporting on them to the Government and the ecclesiastical authorities of Goa and Portugal.
The Sunday Standard corroborated what the local press, including the Heraldo, had reported extensively over the last year. “His last work, completed a few weeks before his death, was historic, and should be a fitting memorial to a man whose only justification, as he often said to me, was service of his fellowmen. The work was the rehabilitation of the ancient city of Old Goa which had lain uninhabited and uninhabitable since the seventeenth century when it was abandoned overnight by its population of 3,00,000 citizens panic-stricken by a mysterious malady for which no treatment has ever been discovered.
Till last year nobody outside the half dozen surviving old churches spent a single night in Old Goa for fear of contracting the disease, a peculiarly malignant type of malaria which resisted every known treatment. In May 1948 Col. Dias started his “Blitzkrieg” for the restoration of the capital.”
The Sunday News of India, in its article “City of Death brought back to life”, elaborated: “…the work of resanitation was carried out with military precision and speed: 800 wells were buried, every possible reservoir of infection was sterilised, mosquitoes were literally exterminated and their breeding places wiped out…. It took three months, at the end of which not a single mosquito remained, and the cleaned and disinfected city was pronounced habitable once more. The Portuguese Ministry for Colonies appointed a commission consisting of a member of the Rockefeller Foundation from New York and a Professor of the Tropical Institute in Lisbon to inspect the city. Their laconic report, as cabled to the Minister, read: “No more mosquitoes in the Old Goa, which is now free from death and disease”.
Col. Dias was President of the Leprosaria de Macasana and of the Tuberculosis Sanatorium. Besides this, he was a man of many interests. He founded and headed the Laboratorio Sida, a pharmaceutical company that created novel drugs in the treatment of several illnesses which ranged from bronchial asthma, to pulmonary tuberculosis, to lung infections, leprosy and gout to name but a few. Contemporaneous accounts from physicians and patients of the time indicate their efficacy.
He invented and patented an electric incubator “Lux” for the hatching of chickens, which was innovative for its time, as it employed a property of light described as luminosity. The invention was registered with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in Lisbon, with a national patent.
Col. Dias was among the first physicians in Goa to acquire a portable X-ray machine for his private practice, having studied in the field of radiology in Berlin. His work was published in reputed medical journals such as the Lancet, and the Presse Medicale in Paris. He was on the committee of the Instituto Vasco da Gama, a prestigious institution in Goa.
A multifaceted man, he was a radio enthusiast, and gave the first ever radio broadcast in Goa from his house in Altinho. This fact is corroborated in Aleixo Manuel da Costa’s Dicionário de Literatura Goesa in his summary of Victor Dias’ life (page 350), and by his peers living today. He often spoke on the radio on various issues and the text of the speeches were reproduced in the local papers.
The Sunday Standard captured his essence thus: “More than all this, Victor Dias was a fascinating companion, with a gift of conversation which ranged from the art of Picasso and the aberrations of Dali, to Shakespeare, Kant, Bach and Boogey-woogey—literally from Socrates to ships and sealing wax, without being boring or didactic. Of courtly manners and polished speech, an orator in three languages with command of a dozen, he was epicure in the art of living, an artist in everything he did, with an inexhaustible charity that loved everybody and looked down on nothing. Above all he was modest and had a rich sense of humour.”
A memorial service for this remarkable Renaissance man will be held at St Inez church on 11 June at 9.30 am, followed by tributes at his grave.