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A giant in the humanitarian world passes away

Dr Satya Paul Agarwal
(21st Oct. 1945 - 17th Nov. 2015)

Dr Satya Paul Agarwal, the serving Secretary General of the Indian Red Cross Society passed away today morning at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi after a brief illness. He was 70.

Dr Agarwal had been the secretary general of the Indian Red Cross since 2005. He received the Henry Dunant Medal, the highest honour bestowed by the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, for his work following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. He was the chair of the IFRC Advisory Body on Sustainable Development and Health and a former vice president of the IFRC.

Dr Veer Bhushan, Joint secretary, Indian Red Cross said that, “Dr Agarwal helped prepare vulnerable populations for disaster by setting up First Medical Responders, which are a network of community-based volunteers with the first aid skills to save lives in remote communities until help arrives. He also established modern emergency operations centres in several state headquarters and had set up a dedicated national water and sanitation response team”. Among his many initiatives was the modernisation of the Red Cross blood bank at New Delhi.

In keeping with Dr Agarwal’s lifelong love of learning, he set up a University affiliated Post-graduate diploma programme in disaster preparedness and rehabilitation in 2006. Now in its tenth year, students come from Red Cross and Red Crescent, NGOs and government sector who are at the helm of disaster management activities. He also set up a course on health promotion through Ayurveda and Yoga. This is run collaboration with the Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences and Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga, with the support of the government.

Jagan Chapagain, who was the IFRC head of Asia Pacific until earlier this year, said, “First Medical Responders are a fitting legacy of Dr Agarwal’s passion for health care and the welfare of the most vulnerable people.”

A former neurosurgeon and academic, Dr Agarwal was India’s longest-serving Director General of Health Services in the government of India, holding the post from 1996 to 2005. As a public health administrator, he played a pivotal role in disaster relief operations such as the super cyclone in Orissa in 1999 and the Gujarat earthquake in 2001, and responses to diseases such as pneumonic plague and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. He served on the governance or management boards of many organisations including the Tuberculosis Association of India, the National Disaster Management Authority, the Bureau of India Standards and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

He received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Tuberculosis in 2005, the Dr B. C. Roy National Award for Eminent Medical Person in 2002 and a Doctor of Science from Punjab University in 2007. In 2010, Dr Agarwal received the Padma Bhushan award, the third highest civilian honour in India. On hearing about the Padma Bbhushan award, he said, “The call from the Home Ministry on Monday morning made all our (Indian Red Cross Society's) humanitarian work worthwhile. The award is for reaching out for those who need help the most.”

Dr Agarwal authored and edited several books. In recent years, he took to Twitter to spread his views on health and humanitarian issues to an even wider audience.

The members and volunteers of the Indian Red Cross branches in the states and UTs paid rich tributes to their Secretary General. They were joined by the Secretary General of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Mr Elhadj SY and other partners around the world.

In keeping with Hindu tradition, Dr Agarwal was cremated in the evening today. He is survived by his wife Sarita Agarwal, daughter Ashima Sharma and son Tushar Agarwal.

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