The Fourth International Symposium on Basic Approach to Allergic Rhinitis will be held in Tokyo on Feb. 10 and 11. Its central theme, “allergy — from the nose to the lung,” is to focus on the impact and relation of allergic rhinitis and asthma. President of the Fourth ISBAAR and a founder of the series is Dr. Ruby Pawankar, who says this nonprofit organization is dedicated to the education of clinicians, residents and research fellows on the mechanisms and treatment of allergic rhinitis and related diseases. It aims to increase global awareness of allergic diseases. “Their increasing incidence is well recognized,” Pawankar said. “Today, allergy is considered a global health issue.”
Pawankar was born to an eminent Syrian Christian family in Calcutta. She regards her surging energy and minimal need for sleep as gifts from God. She says that in India she was always used to very tight schedules, so she learned early on to deal readily with demands made upon her. As well as being an ear, nose and throat surgeon at Nippon Medical School, she is a guest professor at Kyung-Hee University in Seoul and at the Showa University School of Medicine in Tokyo. Her commitments to world and area organizations and to writing and lecturing are multiple, as are the medals, grants and awards she has received.
Pawankar says she “proudly remains an Indian citizen. Growing up in a culturally pluralistic and ever evolving society made me an extremely tolerant person. I learned to appreciate and respect diversity.” There were doctors in her wider but not in her immediate family. When she announced her intention to study medicine, “My parents thought it a kind of childhood infatuation that I would grow out of,” she said. “But I was persistent.”
She attended schools in Calcutta and Kerala, and entered medical school at the Armed Forces Medical Academy of India in Pune. After her 1982 graduation, she specialized in otorhinolaryngology at Pune University, and received appointment as a surgeon at Poona Hospital and Medical Research Center, Pune. Already interested in biomedical research, as a visiting research fellow she attended the National Research Facility for Animal Cell and Tissue Culture.
“I realized there were many allergies, but little was known about them, and little practice carried out,” Pawankar said. “Learning about allergies is time consuming, and brings in little income. I felt it was important, quite essential, to do something different from other people. Many researchers want to go to the West, but I felt coming here was a good alternative. Good research is going on in Japan too.”
The Japanese Association of University Women awarded her an international fellowship, and in 1989 she and her husband moved to Tokyo. Her husband was already invited to curate an exposition of Indian art and culture that was part of the Festival of India in Japan. Since she is a doctor, and he a worker for the conservation of cultural heritage, it is difficult for them to follow their different careers in other countries at the same time. “God has been very kind to us,” Pawankar said. “He has given us opportunities to stay together.”
Pawankar received her Ph.D. in allergy and immunology in 1995. She has been invited to lecture at conferences and medical institutions in 27 countries, including such prestigious centers as the Harvard Medical School and the Swiss Institute of Allergology. As the date for the ISBAAR symposium approaches, she is giving priority attention to its requirements.
Experts from Canada, the Netherlands, the U.S., Belgium and France as well as Japan will give lectures from 8 a.m. on Feb. 10 in the Akasaka Prince Hotel. At a satellite symposium Feb. 11, three nationals will give versions of the current concepts of the treatment of allergic rhinitis and asthma. “In industrialized and in industrializing countries, allergic diseases are affecting up to 50 percent of the population,” Pawankar said. “Greater dissemination of knowledge and clinical treatment of allergic disorders is a crucial issue worldwide. ISBAAR represents an attempt to encourage international scientific exchange and strengthen solidarity and integrity.”
In time, and perhaps in India, Pawankar intends to set up an Asian institute of allergies that would cater for patients and conduct research. She said, “I think my true calling is to bring advances in modern medicare to the underprivileged in the developing world.”