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Student became child health expert

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A BRILLIANT young student from Helensburgh went on to play a major role in child health in both Britain and India.

Dagmar Florence Curjel, who lived at Daneholm, 37 Campbell Street, matriculated to study medicine at Glasgow's Queen Margaret College in 1909, and built up a glittering academic record.

She was the daughter of an East India merchant, Harald Curjel, and his wife, and was born on September 10 1888 at Kurrachee in the Lahore District of Karachi. They moved to Helensburgh around 1903, and her father died around 1908.

When Dagmar graduated on October 8 1914 she gained very high marks in her professional exams and a commendation, and was also the medalist in surgery. About this time her mother moved to a seafront flat at 44 West Clyde Street.

Her second class certificate in physiology in 1910 was her first place on merit, and she went on to be the medallist in midwifery and Mackintosh Bursar in insanity, before taking first class certificates in chemistry, botany, physics, medical jurisprudence and public health.

During the First World War she went back to the place of her birth as a surgeon in the Women's Indian Medical Service, and when the war was over she returned to live with her mother, applied herself to medical research, and graduated MD from Glasgow University in 1921.

But India called again, and on August 16 she married William Robert Wilson, a Deputy Commissioner in the Indian Civil Service, at Simla, now Shimla, which was considered the summer capital of British India.

She lived and worked there for almost 20 years, specialising in rickets in Indian children and its relationship to nutrition, and did not shy away from controversy.

Her 1931 survey among several thousands of school age children in what was then northern India concluded that the causes of rickets were predominantly social, such as purdah — the wearing of the veil and burka, and seclusion for females — as well as poor housing design preventing access to sunlight, and an inadequate diet.

Various such surveys gave Dagmar the ammunition she needed to campaign against overcrowding, poor diet, and the effects of lack of sunshine.

Back in Britain during the Second World War, she made her home in Oxford and lived and worked there in the Laboratory of Human Nutrition at the Institute of Social Medicine for the rest of her life.

In 1941 she published an important study of endemic goitre in the medical magazine The Lancet, comparing this enlarged thyroid condition in England and the Punjab.

Her conclusion was that it was related to the geological distribution of fluorine and to the distribution of human dental fluorosis, or mottled teeth, which is caused by too much exposure to fluoride during a child's tooth development in early years.

That same year she was involved in discussions at the Royal Society of Medicine in London on the effects of wartime rationing on child health.

A post-war health problem she researched and wrote about because of its importance in reconstruction of the country was the influence of the public water supply on health and nutrition.

She wrote: "Of all the substances necessary for existence, water ranks second only to oxygen in importance. Without water, life is not possible."

Another controversial issue she wrote about in the British Medical Journal in 1995 was female circumcision, and she was involved in studies on menstruation.

A Member of the Royal College of Physicians and Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, she was considered to be one of the outstanding doctors of her generation.

She died in Oxford on June 16 1970 at the age of 81.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 22 April 2010 14:12 )  

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First 2018 Open Meeting

Mike-Thornley-wThe first 2018 Open Meeting will be held at Helensburgh Civic Centre at 7.30pm on Wednesday January 31. Mike Thornley will talk about the Glenarn garden at Rhu. Anyone interested most welcome.

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