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Header image: Courtesy Prof. Rohan Jayasekara, Dean, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo (2011 - 2014).
My Article in the Asia-Pacfic Journal of Public Health
I am pleased to let you know that my article on Walter Patrick has been published in the January 2015 issue of the Asia- Pacific Journal of Public Health. For your information, as you will see, this publication is a prestigious peer reviewed international journal. This particular issue is a special commemorative issue for the late Professor Walter Patrick about whom I wrote in this blog when he passed away some months ago.
To see the full article, I think one has to be a subscriber. But I have reproduced below, the complete text if you have not seen it before. Please click on the following link to see the cover page of the journal.
Walter Patrick’s Contribution Toward Public Health Education in Sri Lanka
It was on 22 May, 2014 that Prof. Walter K. Patrick passed away suddenly in Antonio, Texas.
The loss of this eminent leader in Public Health/Community Medicine was
felt throughout the region, but more so in Sri Lanka where his important
career as a Public Health Education professional began.
Walter continued to serve the country of his birth even after he left the
shores of Sri Lanka
in 1983. He had ample opportunities to do so particularly as the Secretary
General of Asia-Pacific Academic Consortium for Public Health (APACPH) and
Head of the Global Health and Medicine Program of Studies at the John A.
Burns School of Medicine at the University
of Hawaii at Manoa
since 2004. Prof Patrick joined the University of Hawaii
in December, 1983 as an associate specialist and later as associate
professor until he retired on 30 June, 2013. In Sri Lanka he will be remembered
for his service in the Health Education Bureau of the Ministry of Health
from 1975 to 1983 as a Health Education Specialist.
Early Years Walter received his early education at St. Joseph’s
and he entered the Colombo Medical Faculty in 1957 where he graduated MBBS
in 1962. As a medical student, Walter resided at the Kittyakara Men’s
Hostel in Colombo
and being a devout catholic, was actively involved in the Medical Faculty’s
Catholic Students Union.
He was five years senior to the author in the Colombo Medical Faculty, and
graduated just before I entered medical school in June 1962. I first met
Walter when he was working in the Health Ministry’s Health Education
Division which was then located in an insignificant corner at the
“Boatyard” adjacent to the BeiraLake, just behind the old ParliamentBuilding
at Galle Face.
Unlike the developed countries that had fully qualified Health Education
Specialists, Sri Lanka
at that time had none. In 1973, the United Nations Fund for Population
Activities (UNFPA) provided funds through the WHO to the Health Ministry to
send five medical doctors with experience in Public Health (selected
through interviews) to universities in the United States on 18 to 24 month
Fellowships, to be trained as Health Education Specialists. The WHO found
placements for the five selected doctors in prestigious universities that
had reputed Schools of Public Health. Thus Walter Patrick (along with the
late Merle Perera) went to the University
of Michigan at Ann Arbor. The writer himself (along with
the late Marcus Fernando) proceeded to the University
of California, Berkeley
and the late Upali Perera to the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At the time he was selected for the WHO
Fellowship, Walter was the School Medical Officer in the southern city of Galle.
Health Education Bureau
The newly qualified Health Education Specialists dutifully returned to
their home country after completing their Masters degrees in Public Health
(MPH) majoring in Health Education. On their return in 1975, all except one
were posted to the Health Education Bureau (HEB), which by then had been
upgraded and shifted to the former Health Education Materials Production
Unit (HEMPU) premises at Kynsey
Road. According to the plan drawn up by the
HEB’s first Director Dr. Tilak Munasinghe and WHO Consultant Dr. Nagaraj,
the Bureau was made up of a number of Sub Units, each handling a special
area of work at the national level. Walter was placed in charge of the
Education and Training Sub Unit and that is where he showed his mettle with
Walter Patrick’s achievements as the head of the Education and Training Sub
Unit are too numerous to mention. But there are a few accomplishments that
need to be recorded here.
Post Graduate Training in Health Education
Walter played the leading role in training local Health Educators and it
was in the 1980s that a post graduate course leading to the degree of
Master of Science (MSc) in Heath Education was developed by the HEB.
Significantly, it was with this new degree course that the Post Graduate
Institute of Medicine (PGIM) broke tradition by opening this MSc course to
non-medical candidates. All recipients of degrees from the PGIM had up to
that time been either medical or dental graduates.
During the long and strenuous training at the first residential course was
conducted at the Diyagala Boys’ Town in Ragama, Walter was supported by his
medical and non-medical colleagues ably led by HEB Director Dr. Tilak
Munasinghe. Walter had developed a training curriculum similar
international courses, a combination of classroom teaching and practical
field experiences. At the end of a hard day’s work, there were many
sessions of singing and dancing where the teaching faculty mixed freely
with the trainees.
One of the major projects of the new government that came to power in 1977
was the Mahaweli Project under which major rivers were being diverted by
building hydro electric dams. Existing townships were submerged and
displaced communities had to be accommodated in newly cleared areas. As the
Mahaweli project gathered momentum, it was under Walter’s direction the
displaced settlers were prepared to start their new life in new areas.
Bands of volunteer health workers were recruited and trained to work
closely with Public Health Inspectors and Family Health Workers at village
level to educate families and look into their health needs. New settlers in
Mahaweli areas needed special attention in this regard. Thus HEB staff
spent days and nights travelling and working in these sites including
Mahailluppallama, Maduru Oya, Digana, Kotmale, Teldeniya, Mahiyangana and
Girandurukotte. We all enjoyed sipping plain tea in wayside cafes or in
humble thatched homes while chatting with villagers, occasionally throwing
in health messages when appropriate!
Training Health Workers in Jaffna
In those peaceful days when all races co-existed in perfect harmony, we
thought nothing of spending weeks in far off Jaffna, occasionally enjoying frothy
palmyrah toddy freshly served straight from the tree! I remember very well
the two weeks we spent in Jaffna
during a training programme for health workers in the north. Field trips to
the islands such as Kayts were especially enjoyable. All this was done
under Walter’s able leadership.
Research and Publications
Walter was a frequent contributor of scientific papers to international
journals and had many publications to his credit. Two of his earliest
publications – “Volunteer Health Workers of Sri Lanka” and “School Health
Education in Sri Lanka”
were published during the time he served the Health Education Bureau in Sri Lanka.
In the latter part of his career, Walter was a member of the International
Advisory Board of the Journal of Experimental and Clinical Medicine at the
John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii
Walter as a Person
Walter was married to Viji, who proved to be a very loving and supportive
wife, who specialised in psychiatry. Their only child Natasha is married
and well settled. Apart from Walter’s professional talents, he was a fine
human being. Having known him for well over 40 years, not only as a
professional colleague but also as a personal friend, it was not difficult
to come to such a conclusion. Being extremely friendly in nature, Walter
was an unassuming, modest personality.
Walter and I belonged to two different races. He was a Tamil and I belong
to the Sinhala race. Thanks to my early upbringing in the place where I
lived as a child and in the school that I attended, I somehow developed the
right attitude whereby I only thought of others as fellow human beings. I
am proud to say that many of my closest friends are Tamils and Walter was
one of them. When we chose friends to associate with, we never ever thought
of them as Tamil or Sinhalese.
Walter’s sense of humour knew no bounds. Many were the parties that we
attended together. Many were the field trips that we did in each other’s
company. How can I ever forget how with a glass in hand, Walter tried to
get others drunk! If one managed to stay sober, it was quite noticeable
that the level of liquid in his own glass never went down! He was a
“shammer” of the first order when it came to drinking. Walter was fondly
called “Manoharan” as there was a popular Tamil singer by that name at that
time. Walter always tried to sing, but whether he was successful or not is
a moot point.
I remember the day I visited Walter and Viji at their Daya Road residence in the aftermath
of the unfortunate July 1983 racial riots. Fortunately, they had been
spared of any physical harm and while quite bitter were very forgiving. In
1982 Walter was awarded his PhD by the University
of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Not long thereafter, he
emigrated to the US and
accepted a position with the School
of Public Health at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Present Status of Health Education in Sri Lanka
Health Education is now a recognised discipline in Sri Lanka
and the pioneering work of the first Director of the Health Education
Bureau went a long way in achieving this. Starting almost from scratch,
when mere information giving activities such as display of posters,
distribution of leaflets, pamphlets and folders, health exhibitions and
cinema shows supplemented with public announcements over mobile
loudspeakers was passed off as public health education, Dr. Munasinghe
brought together a dedicated set of professionals to build up the
discipline to acceptable levels. That achievement will long be remembered
as an important landmark on the path to progress. In fact, the period
extending from 1972 to 1990, will go down in history as the Golden Era of
Health Education in Sri
Lanka. It was mainly the achievements
and untiring efforts of his able lieutenant Walter K. Patrick that made HEB
Director Dr. Munasinghe’s stupendous task that much easier.