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Vladimir Khavkin made history of medicine as a person who introduced into practice a vaccine against the terrible diseases of mankind – cholera and plague. He was considered a medical scientist from Switzerland, France, Great Britain, but he was born and studied in Ukraine. Who is Vladimir Khavkin and what exactly did he do for humanity?
VLADIMIR ARONOVICH KHAVKIN
Vladimir (Waldemar, Markus-Wolf) Aronovich Khavkin was born on March 15, 1860 in Odessa, into a poor Jewish family. Later, his family moved to Berdyansk.
The father of the future scientist was a teacher at a Jewish school, as well as his grandfather, mother’s father. Since childhood, Vladimir has been an inquisitive and hardworking child. He studied brilliantly first at the cheder, a Jewish school for boys, and in 1879 he graduated from the Russian male gymnasium in Berdyansk and entered the natural sciences department of the physics and mathematics faculty at the Imperial Novorossiysk University in Odessa.
At this time, young, perky, outstanding scientists worked at Novorossiysk University: physiologist I.M. Sechenov, zoologists and embryologists A.O. Kovalevsky and I.I. Mechnikov, physicist N.A. Umov.
So the student V. Khavkin had someone to learn from, someone to take an example from and someone to look up to. It was during his student years that the outstanding abilities of the young scientist and his desire to devote his life to scientific discoveries were manifested.
He became a member of the Society of Naturalists and a favourite student of I.I. Mechnikov, his follower interested in invertebrate zoology.
By nature, Vladimir was a rebel, he actively participated in demonstrations and other protest actions of students. In his sophomore year, he was expelled from the university because he was considered one of the leaders of student performances.
In the list of politically unreliable people, compiled by the Odessa gendarme administration, V. Khavkin’s name was noted as a member of the terrorist party “Narodnaya Volya”. He was under constant police surveillance. By the way, Professor Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov, who considered Vladimir Aronovich to be very talented, was a progressive-minded person, which means he was also unreliable.
The expulsion from the university was a disaster for V. Khavkin, which meant the end of his scientific work. But the academic council of the university defended him and two more students. Among the teachers who strongly advocated their restoration was I.I. Mechnikov.
In 1884, the populist revolutionaries killed Tsar Alexander II and the government responded with repressions against the Narodnaya Volya. At the same time, a rumor appeared that the regicide was the work of Jews, and pogroms began in Odessa.
International student youth united in self-defense groups to oppose the rioters. V. Khavkin took part in street fights. He was caught with a weapon in his hands and sent to prison along with other defending students. But the police could not accuse him of organizing the riots in the city and released him from prison.
Once again V. Khavkin was arrested in February 1882 for participating in the preparation of the murder of the military court prosecutor General Strelnikov, but again they could not convict him and in the spring of the same year they released him a few days before Strelnikov was killed on Primorsky Boulevard. Arrests, repressions, executions began again.
After the murder of Strelnikov, Vladimir Aronovich broke with the People’s Will and devoted all his time to studies and work in the laboratory. Of the two paths, revolution or science, he chose the latter.
Meanwhile, the situation at Novorossiysk University became unbearable for students and teachers who defended their right to freedom of speech and assembly. 240 students sent a letter to the Minister of Education protesting against the constant supervision of the university inspectorate and the police, which held back the initiative of young people and killed scientific thinking.
The letter also drew attention to the difficult financial situation of a large number of students. After that, 90 students wrote a collective letter to the rector of the university S.P. Yaroshenko. V. Khavkin signed both letters, and he was expelled from the university for the second time. At the same time, several professors resigned in protest against the actions of the authorities, among whom was I.I. Mechnikov.
V. Khavkin was still allowed to defend his Ph.D. thesis as an external student in 1884, but he could not continue his scientific work or teach in Odessa – he was unreliable. The Narodnaya Volya organization was completely destroyed in Odessa, V. Khavkin lost close friends, he did not have the opportunity to earn even a little money.
V. KHAVKIN (FIRST LEFT) IN THE LABORATORY OF I.I. MECHNIKOV, 1892
His teacher I.I. Mechnikov, who by that time was already working abroad. First, he helped V. Khavkin become a privat-docent at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland), and then recommended him to the Pasteur Institute in Paris, where at that time he already worked himself.
Ilya Ilyich suggested that V. Khavkin move to Paris to conduct research at the Pasteur Institute, created by the outstanding French microbiologist Louis Pasteur in 1888.
At that time, only the position of a junior librarian was vacant at the Institute, but V. Khavkin agreed to this position. He did the work of a librarian, and in his free time he was engaged in research in the laboratory.
At that time, there were several epidemic zones (areas) of cholera in the world. Quarantine measures did not help much against the spread of the infection; a vaccine was needed. And Vladimir Khavkin created it by immunizing laboratory animals – rabbits and guinea pigs.
Immunity (from Latin immunita – liberation from something) is the body’s immunity to infectious and non-infectious agents and substances that have antigenic properties.
Immunization is a method of creating artificial immunity in humans or animals. Immunization can be active or passive. In the first case, foreign antigen agents are introduced into the body. Most often, vaccines are used for this, that is, specially prepared weakened pathogenic bacteria. This phenomenon is called vaccination.
For passive immunization, the blood serum of the immunized animals is injected. Passive immunization has a short-term effect, it is used in areas of the disease so that healthy people do not get sick upon contact with sick people.
If the disease had already begun, then the serum greatly facilitated its course. Serum contains antibodies that prevent pathogenic bacteria from spreading and multiplying.
It was the cholera vaccine that Vladimir Aronovich Khavkin created.
Animal studies are good, but it is not known how the vaccine will affect humans. To this end, V. Khavkin invited three of his comrades – Russian political emigrants to the Pasteur Institute.
The head of the laboratory in which V. Khavkin worked, Professor Emil Roux did not immediately allow the vaccine to be tested in humans. The first to receive a dose of the vaccine was Vladimir Aronovich himself, then his comrades, two of whom were doctors.
V. KHAVKIN (IN THE CENTER) WITH STAFF OF THE LABORATORY FOR FIGHT AGAINST PLAGUE, 1902
The tests were successful. This happened on June 18, 1892. V. Khavkin’s teachers – L. Pasteur and I.I. Mechnikov congratulated him on his significant success.
At a meeting of the Biological Society, the scientist reported that the cholera vaccine he created is safe, and six days after its introduction, immunity develops.
V. Khavkin knew that in the south of Ukraine, especially in Odessa, cholera outbreaks very often occur. Since Ukraine was part of Russia at that time, V. Khavkin proposed the use of the vaccine to the Prince of Oldenburg, the brother of the Russian Tsar, who, as they would say now, was the country’s chief epidemiologist.
Although the letter to the prince was signed by L. Pasteur himself, V. Khavkin was told that Russia did not need his vaccine, despite the fact that at that time cholera was walking in the southern provinces of the state.
The outstanding writer and doctor Anton Pavlovich Chekhov at that time wrote that V. Khavkin’s vaccine could be used to fight cholera in Russia, but “unfortunately V. Khavkin is not popular in Russia”, or rather unreliable, and also a political emigrant …
But not only in Russia, France and Germany also refused to use V. Khavkin’s vaccine. Even some European bacteriologists were not convinced of the benefits of vaccination.
So the famous doctor and bacteriologist Robert Koch, who discovered the causative agent of consumption (tuberculosis), spoke about preventive vaccinations like this: “It’s too good to be true.” He could not create a vaccine against consumption.
And only the British government allowed the use of the vaccine in India, which at that time was its colony. It is clear that not immediately, but after long negotiations, Vladimir Aronovich was allowed to start vaccination of the population in order to eliminate the epidemic in Bengal. The British had no other choice – in 1877-1890. there, more than 1 million people and the British military died from cholera.
What is this disease – cholera, and why is it most common in India?
HAVKIN’S LABORATORY IN BOMBEY
Cholera (from the Greek “bile” and Qεω – “flow”) is an acute intestinal infection caused by bacteria of the Vibrio cholera species – cholera vibrios.
These bacteria produce toxins that destroy intestinal cells. They cause an abundant release of fluid into the intestinal lumen, which leads to dehydration and a fatal water-salt balance in the body.
A sick person secretes bacteria with diarrhea and vomiting, other people get them through the mouth if basic hygiene rules are not followed. Cholera is also called “dirty hands” disease.
Ideal conditions for the spread of cholera were in the basin of the Ganges and Bramaputra rivers in Bengal (India). On the one hand, there was a hot climate, a large amount of precipitation, boggy areas, on the other, a high density of settlement of the banks, constant fecal contamination of river expanses, from where they took drinking water, in which there was an increased content of microorganisms.
According to the beliefs of Hindus, the Ganges is a sacred river, bathing in it and drinking water changes a person, makes him close to God. An increase in the incidence of cholera in India with an interval of 3 years was noted in antiquity.
This is due to the fact that every 3 years in April there is a rite of mass pilgrimage of Hindus – Kumbha Mela. Millions of pilgrims flock to the Ganges on pilgrimage, each of them performs up to three ritual ablutions a day and drinks water while saying prayers.
Many pilgrims settle down on the banks of the river in tents and huts in conditions of terrible crowding and unsanitary conditions, and these are optimal conditions for the spread of aquatic intestinal infections. With the return to their native places, the pilgrims bring cholera and other intestinal diseases to all parts of India, as well as beyond.
Cholera often occurs after natural disasters (earthquakes), wars, social cataclysms. In total, scientists have identified seven cholera pandemics, the last seventh pandemic was in 1961-1975. But cholera still exists in 90 countries of the world, despite the efforts of doctors.
This disease is constantly recorded in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, where many people still live in unsanitary conditions. From 3 to 5 million people fall ill every year, of which 100-200 thousand die.
An outbreak of cholera was registered in 1970 in the Odessa region, Crimea, and in 1991-1996. cholera was registered in 14 regions of Ukraine and the city of Sevastopol, in 1994 the disease reached an epidemic level.
In Ukraine, in the waters of the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov, the Dnieper, the Dniester, the Southern Bug, cholera vibrios are stably found. The spread of cholera pathogens is facilitated by flies, cockroaches and other insects, on the tips of the legs of which vibrios can persist for a long time. So personal care products remain important today and for all time.
But back to Vladimir Khavkin, who left for Calcutta in the summer of 1893 as a state bacteriologist of the British Crown.
There, the English physician William Simpson put his small bacteriological laboratory at his disposal. There V. Khavkin set up the production of a cholera vaccine and, with four Indian doctors who believed in the effectiveness of the vaccine, went to a small village near Calcutta.
DOCTOR MAKHATMA (V. KHAVKIN, BENGAL, 1896)
Indian peasants did not believe the doctors who explained the benefits of vaccination, because they believed that illness and death were determined by higher powers, and they could not be interfered with. In response to the doctors’ persuasion to give a saving injection, the peasants began to threaten them, and then began to throw stones at them.
But instead of running away, the scientist took off his jacket and shirt, and his friend injected him with the vaccine in front of the angry peasants. The peasants were surprised and shocked, but 116 men allowed themselves to be vaccinated and none of them got sick.
In India, rumors spread quickly, and the small laboratory received many invitations to vaccinate people in various parts of the country.
For 2.5 years, 42 thousand people received vaccinations. Some still fell ill, but the death rate from cholera among vaccinated people decreased by 10 times.
V. Khavkin himself fell seriously ill with malaria and was forced to leave for treatment. But six months later, he returned and vaccinated another 30 thousand people.
He set up the production of his cholera vaccine and himself vaccinated (vaccinated) many people. In the end, the Indians believed the young Russian (Ukrainian) doctor and his assistants. The epidemic was stopped.
The improved Khavkin vaccine is now being used in regions where cholera occurs; especially in refugee camps – places of natural disasters.
One cannot overestimate the contribution of V. Khavkin to the fight against the plague, the epidemic of which arose in the autumn of 1896 in India. The center of the epidemic was the second largest city in India, Bombay, and its surroundings. But with the plague, everything was much more complicated than with cholera, and the disease itself is very dangerous for humans.
Why is the plague disease so terrible and dangerous?
Plague (lat perstis – infection) is an acute natural focal infectious disease that affects the lymph nodes, lungs and other internal organs, often with the development of sepsis (general purulent infection, ancient Greek σῆψις – rotting; Russian name – “blood poisoning”) …
The disease is characterized by high mortality and extremely high infectiousness. The most favorable course of the cutaneous and bubonic forms of plague, the mortality rate from which is 40-60%, but from the pulmonary and septic forms – almost 100%. She was called the “black death”.
The causative agent of the plague is the plague bacillus – Yersinia pestis, the source and reservoir of infection are rodents – ground squirrels, marmots, gerbils, rats, less often – cats and camels.
The infectious agent is carried by fleas and ticks, in the body of which plague sticks remain viable for a long time even on the corpses of dead animals! The plague still affects 2.5 thousand people in the world, and this figure is not decreasing.
DOCTOR MAKHATMA (V. KHAVKIN, BENGAL)
Vladimir Khavkin arrived in Bombay, where he was assigned one room and four technical staff at the Medical College. The tables in the small laboratory were filled with rat cages and test tubes filled with live plague pathogens.
The scientist was in a hurry, he worked 12-14 hours a day, because people were dying in the country. His assistants left him, unable to withstand such a pace of work. It is very difficult to create a vaccine from the plague bacillus, weakened just enough so that it does not cause disease, but only provides immunity in humans.
Three months later, he succeeded, and he first tested the vaccine on rats – none of the animals got sick. And Vladimir Khavkin again became a test subject, he tested the effect of the vaccine on himself.
In the same laboratory where he conducted experiments on animals, on January 10, 1897, in the presence of two witnesses, Vladimir Aronovich injected himself with a dose ten times higher than that which he then administered to people with plague in Bombay.
An hour after the introduction, the scientist showed signs of the plague, but he had been ill with it in a mild form, without stopping to work. After that, the teachers and students of the College of Medicine gave themselves vaccinated, and then vaccinated the prisoners in the Bombay prison.
V. Khavkin actually organized an anti-plague laboratory in Bombay, which in the future became a major Research Center for Bacteriology and Epidemiology. Since 1925 this center has been called the Institute named after “Mahatma” Khavkin (“mahatma” – in modern India this is a respectful appeal to a particularly revered person, the title of outstanding public figures).
After that, recognition came to him. The Germans, French, and Russians believed that through their ports the plague could spread to European countries. Therefore, foreign bacteriologists were interested in the Indian experience in the fight against this formidable disease.
Russian doctors also arrived in Bombay, among whom was an outstanding Ukrainian microbiologist and epidemiologist, the future president of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, Daniil Kirillovich Zabolotny.
D.K. Zabolotny himself organized an anti-plague laboratory on Aptekarsky Island in St. Petersburg, where he also studied cholera. V. Khavkin was very pleased with the first contact with compatriots after almost ten years spent outside his homeland.
Great Britain did not forget about V. Khavkin’s achievement: Queen Victoria in 1897 awarded him one of the highest orders of the British Empire. In his honor, a festive reception was given, attended by famous British doctors. The scientist’s contribution to the development of medical science was recognized by the French Academy of Sciences.
Meanwhile, anti-plague vaccinations were carried out in many parts of India. More than 82 thousand vaccinations were made and Vladimir Aronovich could no longer control the quality of the vaccine of each group and the specialists who vaccinated.
BUST OF V.KHAVKIN IN BERDYANSK
And in 1902, disaster struck: in one of the villages of the Punjab, several people who were vaccinated, contracted tetanus and died. V. Khavkin’s laboratory was accused of poor sterilization of dishes, and an investigation began.
A special commission worked, which found that the tetanus pathogen had got into the vaccine already in the village, and in 1907 V. Khavkin was acquitted. And although this story played a role for those who were against vaccination, the fight against the plague continued.
Until 1909, V. Khavkin’s anti-plague vaccine in India alone had 8 million people vaccinated, and in 1940 – 35 million. In addition, he continued to fight cholera, which from time to time appeared in this country.
V. Khavkin worked in India for 18 years, serving her faithfully. He left her in 1915, returning to Europe. During the First World War, the famous bacteriologist was in charge of the British military department vaccination of the military who went to the front.
The last 15 years of his life V. Khavkin lived in Paris, doing charity work. He did not have a family, he believed that he had no right to expose the companion of his life to the danger that he himself met constantly. A year before his death, he bequeathed his own funds (500 thousand francs) to create a fund for young scientists.
The famous scientist, who defeated two terrible diseases – cholera and plague, passed away on October 26, 1930 in Lausanne (Switzerland).
In Berdyansk, they remembered their glorious compatriot and in 2005 installed a bust of Vladimir Aronovich at the entrance to the main building of the Berdyansk Pedagogical Institute. This is the building of the former male gymnasium, in which our compatriot, the great philanthropist, the national hero of India (“the savior of India”), the Chevalier of Great Britain began his long and difficult path.
Vladimir Khavkin saved not only those who were vaccinated with his vaccine, but also those who were vaccinated against other diseases, as well as many others who were saved from death by the idea of vaccination, which he widely promoted.
Here is the Great Benefit, the high threshold of Humanity, which is not given to everyone to cross!
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