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Saturday, January 10, 2015

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.

Click on: Current Issue - January 2015

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 College, Colombo 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 Beira Lake, just behind the old Parliament Building 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 outstanding achievements.
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. 

Mahaweli Project 
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 at Manoa. 

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. 




  1. Thanks for publishing the entire article. Congrats on getting it published in a peer reviewed Journal. It shows the article is of high calibre - another feather in your cap or should I say Thoppiya!

  2. Lucky
    It is a comprehensive tribute to a tower in Public Health, well written as usual by Lucky. Well done indeed. As the editor of our Blog we should see more from you of the fables and foibles of SLankan life today.

  3. To me Public Health is synonymous with Prof O.E.R Abhayaratne and his lectures of lyrical prose. Breeding places for mosquitoes were "tins and cans and pots and pans". The disadvantages of corrugated roofs " hot during hot weather, cold during cold weather and noisy during rainy weather". The size of squatting plates and the pose for ablutions and all that !! He was an effective administrator and a superb teacher. Despite all that he was a kind, generous and compassionate human being the likes of whom we will not see again. Facts being sacred I must confess my knowledge of Public Health has never been more than what could be written in a postage stamp. This merely enhances my admiration for those who have made PH their chosen field.

  4. I met Prof. Walter Patrick in the years prior to medical school, through the Catholic Students' Federation. He was a fine orator, good company and made those junior to him feel accepted. I am sad I never met him thereafter, as he qualified the year I entered medical school and our paths never crossed again.