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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Zika by Zita

Zika- another virus playing havoc?

It’s been around since 1947 with outbreaks in South East Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands but now this virus has turned up in South America and neighbouring islands with 1.5 million cases confirmed.

The present episode is associated with microcephaly in children born to women who contract the disease. Except in the odd case, no association was noted but a definite relationship has been noted since 2013.

What is it really? It is a viral illness caused by an RNA virus which has as its vector the Aedes mosquito mainly egypti but albopictus and polynesiensis have also been mentioned. Patients present with mild fever, sore eyes, headache, joint pain and a red, bumpy rash. The illness lasts from a few days to a week.

The only treatment advised is rest, painkillers and drinking of plenty of fluids. Only one in five infected show symptoms but all can transmit it via the vector. Other modes are transplacental and from an infected mother during delivery. There is potential risk of transmission by transfusion of contaminated blood. Diagnosis is by detection of viral RNA. Viraemic period seems to be short but the virus has been detected in the urine for up to 10 days.

There is no vaccination or preventive drug yet. Differential includes dengue fever, chikengunya and malaria. Treatment is symptomatic but aspirin and NSAIDs are discouraged because of increased risk of haemorrhagic syndrome as well as Reye’s syndrome in children and teens.

Prevention: Public Health control measures of vector management and reduction of breeding grounds i.e. stagnant water, pots, used tyres, tree holes and rock pools are highly recommended and also keeping drinking water stoppered is important. Other simple measures are wearing of long sleeved clothes and use of mosquito nets and insecticides.

Microcephaly as the dreaded new complication has been suggested after its incidence in babies born to infected mothers significantly rose since 2013. Pregnant mothers are advised not to travel to affected areas. Mosquito control in air crafts which is already been done is a simple but important measure. Has Sri Lanka got lessons to learn from this new threat?

Sent by Zita Perera Subasinghe


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Visitors from abroad

A record number of batch members from abroad have visited Sri Lanka in the past few months.

Among them
1.Rohini Abhayaratne,
2.Indra Anandasabapathy,
3.DSC Attale,
4.K. Balachandra,
5.Haris Boralessa,
6.Chittamparanathan Thiagarajah,
7.Sanath de Tissera,
8.Cyril Ernest,
9.Srianee Fernando Dias,
10.Mahendra Gonsalkorale,
11.Nihal Goonetilleke,
12.Kumar Gunawardene,
13.Suren Iyer,
14.Lakshman Jayasinghe,
15.Nalin Nanayakkara,
16.Cecil Saverimutto,
17.Ranjan Wattegedera,
18.Lakshman Weerasooriya,
19.Jimmy Wickramasinghe.

These are only the visits that I have been aware of. It is possible that some others may have come in and left without making their presence known.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

News from Sanath Lama

Sanath has sent me this important message. As you can see, he is raising funds for a worthy cause.

Dear friends,

I am involved in three important health related charitable ventures.


You may remember reading in the newspapers about bone marrow transplants (BMT) for thalassaemia. So far, 9 BMTs have been carried out successfully at Central and Nawaloka Hospitals. Very soon it would be done at LRH also. However, that is not the answer. We should try and prevent the birth of such babies. To do so, we have to identify the carriers of thalassaemia by community screening and counsel them not to marry a fellow carrier. The Ministry of Health spends about 5% of its health budget for the care of these patients. During the last 15 years, Sir David Weatherall (Emeritus Professor of Medicine, University of Oxford ) and Professor Nancy Olivierri (Professor of Paediatrics, University of Toronto.) have being coming here  many times for work in this field. Nancy recently came here for the 76th time!

They have raised funds abroad for a charity named Haemoglobal and established centers in Kurunegala and Kelaniya. Two of our academics have been trained in Oxford and returned with PhDs’. At Anuradhapura where I am a visiting professor, there are over 300 thalassaemics who are being followed up. We need funds for various activities such as community screening, counselling, iron chelation studies, BMTs etc,

Meththa Rehabilitation Foundation

A good friend of mine Dr. Panagamuwa, started a limb fitting facility in Mannar few years ago. He is a surgeon and was a colleague of mine for many years in Galle. He went to the UK in the early nineties, gave up surgery and specialised  in limb fitting and rehabilitation work.The beneficiaries in Mannar were the civilian victims of the war because the soldiers were cared for by the government. He got down container loads of equipment from the UK, trained local personnel and treated many hundreds of patients and thereby changed their destiny. He has cleared that reservoir in the North.

Later he set up similar facilities in Mankulam and Maho and attends to amputees, majority of whom are victims of road traffic accidents and diabetics. He has sent prosthetic technicians to the University of Salford in UK and one of them has already returned and is working in Maho. Initially, he used funds donated by expatriate Sri Lankan doctors and Tamil diaspora. He used his personal funds as well at times of need. His project is called the Meththa Rehabilitation Foundation (MRF). He fits an average of one artificial limb a day and has acquired a fully equipped bus to conduct mobile clinics. Already he has visited Batticaloa and other areas in the North. He will be visiting Galle in early February. The monthly expenditure for the project is about Rs, 900,000.00 and is dependent on donors and I am one of them.

If you wish to contribute, I could send you details of the bank account and contact details of Dr. Panagamuwa. 

Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Aetiology  (CKDU)

This project involves patients afflicted with Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Aetiology (CKDU). It affects farmers in the Polonnaruwa area but is spreading to other areas in the deep South as well. In spite of extensive studies, its causes are unknown as yet. Mr Ranjith Mulleriyawa is helping the people of this area in different ways. He is an old Royalist (49 group) and his contemporaries had been Brendon Gooneratne, JB Peiris et al. He is providing water storage tanks of 5000 litres capacity to harvest rain water. He is in need of a social worker very badly to visit houses and educate people. I have started supporting his project financially in a small way. His project is called the Kandy Kidney Protection Society. You may have read his articles in the Island and Sunday Island newspapers. If you wish to contribute I could send you further details.

Kind regards,


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Creative Spot - Mahendra (Speedy) Gonsalkorale

Suwanda Rosa Mal Nela

Speedy says- "This is a Sunil Santha favourite of mine. Played on the incomparable Tyros 5 and sung by me"

Monday, January 18, 2016

From the Sunday Times

This appeared in the Sunday Times of 10 January, 2016.

Many important lessons in Prof. Ratnatunga’s fight against stroke
I was touched and impressed to read the article titled ‘My Story’ by Professor Channa Ratnatunga, a skilled and dedicated surgeon, in the Sunday Times of January 3, 2016.
His recent illness was unfortunate but we can draw important lessons from the way he has come through this illness.
Lots of lesser mortals afflicted with a sudden massive stroke of this nature may have become bitter over their misfortune and said ‘why me?’. Some others may have become depressed.
However Prof. Ratnatunga has borne this misfortune with great courage and fortitude. He has cooperated well with his doctors and therapists. He blames no one.
What is more important he tries to make use of his misfortune to canvas for the setting up of more stroke units in the country so that in future people who are afflicted with strokes of this nature would be able to make a recovery as good or better than he did.
He tries to make a triumph out of adversity. Similarly we should always try to learn a lesson and do something good of any unfortunate occurrence we may undergo.
I hope he continues to make further progress in his recovery.
Dr. V.P. H. Rajapakse

Thursday, January 14, 2016

For lovers of literature

Srianee (Bunter) Fernando Dias has sent in this.

Dear Lucky,

While reading an article by Jhumpa Lahiri (one of my favorite authors) in The New Yorker magazine,  I came across this passage.  She expresses skillfully what we have all experienced in our lives.  The twists and sharp turns are what become indelibly etched in our memory.  I would like to share this with my friends on the blog and get their comments.

As an aside, she has mastered Italian in her adult life over the years, and her latest book is written in Italian and translated back into English by someone else.


From Jhumpa Lahiri's article "Teaching Yourself Italian" in "The New Yorker," December 7, 2015.

 "One could say that the mechanism of metamorphosis is the only element of life that never changes.  The journey of every individual, every country, every historical epoch - of the entire universe and all it contains - is nothing but a series of changes, at times subtle, at times deep, without which we would stand still.  The moments of transition, in which something changes, constitute the backbone of all of us.  Whether they are a salvation or a loss, they are moments that we tend to remember.  They give a structure to our existence.  Almost all the rest is oblivion."

The beloved Vespa scooter

By Mahendra Gonsalkorale

It is impossible to trace the history of the Vespa scooter without some reference to World War 2. Most of our batch colleagues were conceived during this period but most fortunately, in relative terms, Sri Lanka or Ceylon as it was then called, escaped the terrible hardships of War. It is sobering to reflect that estimated thirty six and a half million Europeans died between 1939 and 1945 from war related causes (equivalent to the total population of France at the outbreak of the war). No other conflict in recorded history killed so many people in so short a time. Something we tend to forget is that of these European casualties of war, at least 19 million (approximately half) were non-combatants. The non-combatant deaths outnumbered the military losses in all European countries with the exception of UK and Germany.

The post war period was devastating with massive material destruction and shortages of everything. The migration problems we see now are minute compared to the massive movement of people that happened in the post war period. Europe became much more homogenised as a result. The word “ethnic cleansing” was first used around this time. It is the hope of all civilised people that we will never ever witness such a human catastrophe.

The need for mobility is basic and in the early post war years, most people relied on public transport where available. Travelling for leisure was restricted to the small number of economically well off people. The motor car was invented many centuries ago but the first mass produced, conveyor belt production car, was the American Ford Model –T produced in 1908. Other early pioneers were Karl Benz in Germany and Nicholas Cugnot in France who is credited with the first powered road vehicle. The development of the motor car which began earlier in the century was interrupted during the war but by the early 1950s, had been revived by the production of small cars with small engines capable of delivering more miles per scarce gallons of petrol. The Citroen CV2 in Italy, the Renault 4 in France, the Morris and Austin early models in UK, the VW Beetle in Germany were typical examples. But in the post-war transport revolution in Europe, the supply of cars could not keep up with demand. This encouraged the growth of bikes, motor cycles and the new brand of motor scooters. The first National motor scooter rally was held in Rome on November 13th 1949 and was followed by a massive growth in the market for these reasonably priced and convenient means of transport which were symbols of urban freedom and mobility.

 Under such circumstance was the Vespa born.

The word Vespa means Wasp in both Italian and Latin. Up to 138 different versions of the Vespa have been built since production began. When Vespa celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1996, more than 15 million of the scooters had been sold worldwide, making it the most successful scooter of all time.

This picture shows the early M6 model with a central section. This was replaced by the more familiar one without the central bar with room for placing the feet behind the shield (wings) housing the handgrip  controls.

Vespa is an Italian brand of scooter manufactured by Piaggio.Piaggio was founded in1884 in Genoa by 20 year old RinaldoPiaggio as a luxury ship building company that expanded into producing rail carriages, automobiles, marine craft and later aeronautics.    Enrico Piaggio and his brother Armando inherited the family engineering business on their father’s death in 1938. Enrico decided to move the business from aircraft to scooter production after the end of the war as there was a need for low cost transport.

Upon seeing the first Vespa (MP6) for the first time, Enrico Piaggio exclaimed: "Sembraunavespa!" ("It resembles a wasp!"). Piaggio effectively named his new scooter on the spot. If he was a Sri Lankan, he would have uttered the immortal words “YakomekaBambarek wage!” and Vespa would have been known as “Bambara”.

The move to scooter production proved to be a prudent one as the company would eventually become one of the biggest manufacturers of two-wheeled vehicles in the world and in fact the Piaggio group is now Europe’s largest manufacturer of two-wheeled vehicles and the world’s fourth largest motorcycle manufacturer by unit sales. The group own 7 companies. Piaggio, Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, Derbi, Vespa, Gilera and Ligier

From their inception, Vespa scooters have been known for their painted, pressed steel unibody which combines a complete cowling for the engine (enclosing the engine mechanism and concealing dirt or grease), a flat floorboard (providing foot protection), and a prominent front fairing (providing wind protection) into a structural unit.

In 1950 Piaggio opened a factory in Germany and a year later in the UK (Douglas of Bristol). The Vespa was soon manufactured in 13 countries and sold in 114.

As a result of the MOD subculture that developed in the 1960s, the United Kingdom became Vespa’s second largest global market.

When Vespa celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1996, more than 15 million of the scooters had been sold worldwide

Sadly, in its country of birth Italy, Vespa popularity is declining. According to data published by ANCMA, moped sales in Italy have declined from a peak of 600,000 in 1980 to 26,727 in 2014 - a vertiginous fall of 97 percent. Economic crisis, demographic shifts, and the changing habits of the younger generation are all conspiring to end the moped culture widely associated with Italian life since World War II."The younger generation is just not as interested in mopeds as it used to be," Claudio Deviti, head of the motorcycle unit of ANCMA, the National Association of Motorcycle, Bicycle and Accessories, told Al Jazeera.

The great rival for the scooter owning fraternity in the Medical Faculty was the Lambretta, made in Milan by Innocenti, but that is another story.

I would like to refer readers to a previous post by Lucky,"Two Wheelers" of the Batch,  25th November 2015. In this post, he named some of our Vespa owners. I hope readers would add to this list.  Those who owned the newer Vespa models (the handle in particular was different) were: SanathLamabadusuriya (I think it had registration number 4 Sri 955), MahendraCollure and the late LGDK Herath. Douglas Mulgirigama owned an older model Vespa. Rajan (Patas) Ratnesar was the other who used an older model of Vespa.
Lucky, and the comments, cover the Vespa. Lambretta, BSA.MotorGuzzi and Honda.

Does anybody know a lady Medico who owned a Vespa? I would have thought it was very suitable for a lady who would like to avoid straddling for reasons best known to her!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Lamentations of an Expat Sri Lankan

 By Nihal D Amerasekera

My head gets clouded with images of the past as I write this in the fading twilight of a winters day in England. I left  the comfort and sanctuary of my home in Sri Lanka for the bright lights of London and the la dolce vita, exactly  42 years ago. Bringing up children and building up a career has taken much time and effort. Now that too seem a distant memory.

Retirement provides the time and the space to rummage deep into my childhood. Those memories seem to fade and wane as the years pass. I am married to a non-Sri Lankan.   Hence our lives do not revolve around my home country, culture or its cuisine. Our friends belong to many different continents. I have tried hard to retain my birth tongue. This has been made difficult with the huge changes that have taken place in the Sinhala language in my own country. Nowadays I cannot understand much of the Sinhala Radio and TV programmes. For sometime I thought YAHAPALANAYA was something about Jaffna until I realized the context was different. Then it dawned on me Yaha=good and palanaya=governance. My Sinhala writing skills have gone with the wind.

I am not a regular visitor to Sri Lanka. Colombo now is a bustling city fizzing with energy. There are eating houses and restaurants in every street corner and they all seem packed to the rafters with people. On every visit I find the roads increasingly clogged up with vehicles spewing acrid fumes. It is a sign of progress and also one of regress as the infrastructure has not kept up with the times. Even the genteel Nugegoda of my childhood is a cauldron of vehicles and humanity.  The known landmarks of my childhood are all gone demolished or disappeared by the growth of new and bigger buildings and the appearance of new highways and byways.

I grew up in a peaceful Ceylon just released from the clutches of the British Empire.  In my childhood the days and nights were quiet beyond belief. There were so few cars on the road. Sundays were particularly tranquil. The morning ritual was to read the Sunday Times and the Observer written by editors who were brought up with English as their first language.  Sunday lunch was special, a sumptuous meal with the family ending with curd and kitul honey. After a brief siesta at 2pm it was the start of Sunday choice with their unmistakable signature tune “For each his own” by the Ink Spots.

I miss my school friends despite the passage of years. There were  many who played cricket and football in the blistering sun and in the monsoon rains. We went fishing and swimming in murky ponds. Sadly several of them have now crossed the vale. Their youthful faces and friendly smiles still linger in my thoughts. I remember most fondly the closeness that developed in those years, the little tiffs that ensued and the pleasure we enjoyed. The sense of loss of those years seem indelible.

In those days at lunch, at bars and when meeting friends everyone talked politics. Now politics seem out of bounds not wanting to be on the wrong side and disappear into a white van. My knowledge of SL politics are frozen in time in the 60’s and 70’s. I still remember Sirimavo Bandaranaike, NM Perera, Colvin R De Silva , Peter Keuneman and before that Dudley Senanayake  SWRD and Sir John with OEG pulling the strings as Governor General. I know nothing of the  new breed of politicians or which party is in power. The Presidential form of democracy which we have adopted has changed the old order.

Cricket has been my passion since childhood. From schooldays, when I was not playing the game in some back street I was talking about it. That was the strength of feeling for the game. I am still a supporter of our national team and look forward to their games in England this summer.

Marriage is still a good topic of conversation. I have often wondered if the old caste system still prevails. There was a tug of war between the Karawa and the Govigama castes as to who was superior. One of my school mates who belonged to the Karawa (fisher-caste) said with great conviction ”when we eat rice we put the fish on top of the rice”. Is the caste still a major factor in marriages or does money even out the discrepancies.  I wonder if dowries are still in vogue and are considered important in marriages. I assume there are many more marriages now which are not arranged. Perhaps, the old days of the “kapuwa” and the arranged meetings of the couple are stories for the Sinhala cinema.

At the time of independence the population of Ceylon was 8 million. The majority lived in villages. There was  a powerful aristocracy that ruled us. The Bandaranaike’s, Senanayake’s, Molamure’s are a few of the names that come to mind.  The ruling elite lived in the lap of luxury in their mansions with a retinue of servants. The middle class was small and mostly worked for the government. The wind of change blew over our island  in the mid 1950’s  bringing with it a new dawn, the era of the common man. That was true democracy at work.  There after the villagers were better represented in government.  That indeed was real progress. I wonder if the aristocracy still exists or has it now merged with the ever widening middle class.

I have missed my family in Sri Lanka enormously and have paid a heavy price for my desire to live and work abroad. I wasn’t present for the births, weddings and deaths of those most dear to me. I am now a stranger to the new generation born during my absence. I feel a foreigner in the country of my birth as Sri Lanka has moved forward in leaps and bounds despite the destructive forces of a long ethnic conflict. Although I live happily in England I have left my heart in that beautiful island of my birth and the land of my fore-fathers.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Keeping in touch – “To Blog or not to Blog”

An E-mail from Mahendra (Speedy) Gonsalkorale

If I pose that question by dropping the ‘l’, the answer is easy! I was tempted to write as I have been wondering for some time why our Blog is not as popular as I was hoping it would be. This view may be erroneous if we base popularity on the number of hits as nearly 890,000 is not bad for a Blog! But we must remember that this is probably not a true representation of popularity as quite a number are automatically generated by surfing robots, as I have pointed out before. These are automated mini-programs, which search Blogs hoping to dredge useful data such as emails of people. Even if for argument’s sake we regard that 50% are robotic hits, it still leaves a healthy 400,000 plus hits. But if we consider how interactive it is, by looking at numbers who comment, then we do fall short by quite a margin. The total number of persons who have commented is below 20 and of these there are less than 10 very active people.

The questions I am posing are these. Why is the comment rate low? How can we get more people involved? How many of our Batch colleagues actually use it? Is it worth sending a questionnaire by email to get the answers? Does the Blog serve a purpose? Is the time and effort made by Lucky so unselfishly, worth it?

Or is this a wider issue about how school friends or University friends keep in touch? We have moved in different directions and we have built up new friendships and we may feel a need to move on putting our past behind us, especially if that part of our past is something we want to forget. We have formed groupings within us based on where we live and our own interests. Our circles have widened and those who we consider worth keeping in touch, we still do but the criterion has to be much wider than “he/she was my batch colleague”. The bonds that we had then have to be very strong for them to survive the ravages of time. We are pleasant when we see each other, but life has taken us in different directions, and we have moved on. We may not feel the need to rekindle the relationship.

Then there is the question of priorities. There never ever is enough time to do what we wish to do and looking at the Blog may not be a priority. Like a good restaurant, if we enjoy the experience, we will come back!

There are other possible factors such as familiarity with computers and the Internet. I still have friends who get their children to set up their TV, check their email!

How much a person uses anything depends a lot on how useful (enjoyable) it is to that person. The Blog may be an avenue to display their talents (music/poetry with me and Zita, and writing in ND’s). It may be a pleasant way to spend time reminiscing. It may rekindle old friendships (e.g., with Razaque in my case). It gives us an opportunity to rejoice at the success of colleagues (e.g. Lama), it may be a medium to recall with pleasure a time we were together at a critical phase of our life, it can be a way to show our appreciation to our Teachers, it could be a medium to enlist help for a good cause connected with our Medical Faculty. It has also been a reminder of our mortality with the growing number of obituary notices.

I have posed many questions and tried to indicate why I feel that the Blog has a lot to offer. I am a firm believer in putting the past behind and moving on. There is no time like the present moment but the present moment could be enriched by learning from the past, but not dwelling in it pondering on the “what might have been”. That kind of reflection, the “what might have been”, is pointless and corrosive and is a recipe for discontent.

But to me, what is important in the final analysis is not how frequently we keep in touch but the ability to pick up and continue from where we left. I felt that very much at the last Batch Reunion when I met colleagues after so many years.

So come on my friends, pull out your fingers and start typing on your keyboards either as a comment, or as an email to one of us. As for me, I enjoy reading the Blog and contributing to it and shall continue to do so.

With best wishes,


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Dr. C.S. Ratnatunga

Close on the heels of Channa Ratnatunga's "My Story", we have a tribute to his uncle Dr. C.S. Ratnatunga sent in by ND. It is most timely and I am sure, viewers will find it interesting.

Dr C S Ratnatunge - Remembered by Dr Nihal D Amerasekera

We are eminently fortunate to have been medical students during the golden era of medical education in Sri Lanka.

Dr C S Ratnatunge was the Superintendent of the Anti-Venereal Disease Campaign and Clinical Specialist in Charge of the VD Clinic. The Clinic was in a back street close to the GHC and remained a non-descript building without a name board. All those who entered and left the building (except the doctors) did so like frightened deer at Yala.  We all had  a 2 week appointment with CSR during which he taught all we needed to know and more. It was one of the best organized and comprehensive clinical teaching courses I have attended. What struck me most of his teaching was his ability to combine scientific detachment with sympathetic understanding of the mental and physical trauma of his patients. As a doctor he was meticulous and a superb clinician.

In 1964 whilst working in the VD Clinic CSR published the History of  Venereal Disease Control in Ceylon with Eunice D.C Pereira. This seminal work on the subject published in the British Journal of Venereal Disease brought him worldwide acclaim.

He proceeded to the UK in the early 1950’s where he obtained his MRCP(Edin) and qualified further in venereal diseases in London. On his return he took charge of the VD Clinic where he worked until 1966 when he retired to proceed to the UK. CSR was appointed Consultant in Genito-Urinary medicine at the Royal free Hospital in London where his expertise was greatly appreciated.  During his tenure he published many scientific papers that were published in the BMJ, Lancet and in the British Journal of Venereal Diseases. CSR also worked as a Consultant to the WHO. He retired in 1982 and the Royal Free hospital held a Symposium on Sexual Health in his honour.

As a Consultant at the Royal Free Hospital he was a visiting physician to the Prince of Wales Hospital in North London where I worked in 1975. Once I introduced myself  in a dark corridor in the bowels of that hospital. Since  then whenever we met he gave me friendly and helpful advice about my career. Even after I became a consultant although he was retired he continued to do several Locums in my hospital. We often met up at lunch in the hospital canteen where we discussed all topics from medicine to politics and mutual friends and acquaintances. He was a kind man generous in his praise for others and a gentleman in every sense of the word.

We thank him for his contribution to medical education and his tireless work in Sexual Health.

May he find Eternal Peace

Monday, January 4, 2016

Creative Spot by Mahendra (Speedy) Gonsalkorale

From London to Manchester in a car
After a large cup of coffee from the bar
That was a mistake, a big one by far
An hour passes progressing on the tar

Oh Hell, I need to pee!
OMG I am now in a sweat
Somehow I mustn't get wet
At last a Motorway stop I see

Rush to the Loo all a quiver
Get ready to stand and deliver
Oh! Oh! The huge relief

It really does beggar belief!

My Story

By Dr. Channa Ratnatunga Most of us have met Channa (Chester) Ratnatunga who was in the first Peradeniya batch. Although I had heard about the stroke that he suffered, I didn't know the details. In today's Sunday Times newspaper, he has recounted the story in detail and it should be read by all viewers who visit the blog. I am sure the reader will clearly see the message embedded in it - that of the need to establish more and more stroke units throughout the country. It is our duty to do what we can to spread the word. Please click on the link "My Story" below to access the article. My story

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Creative Spot - A Short Story by Mahendra (Speedy) Gonsalkorale

This is the story of Channa, who lived in the rural village of  Udurutanne. It begins when he was only 10 years old. He was from a large family and had four sisters and five brothers. His father was a cultivator and a devout Buddhist. The whole family went to the temple every poya day and worshipped the large statue of Buddha. They saw no contradiction in worshipping God Vishnu and Kataragama although he proudly proclaimed that unlike his neighbour Aloysius he did not believe in God. Somapala, for that was his name, never made any decisions without consulting the local Astrologer Punchi Nilame.

Channa always wanted to be a doctor. He was a bright student but was he destined to become a doctor? There was only one way to find out, and off they went to consult Punchi Nilame. Punchi Nilame constantly chewed betel and had an air of importance and wisdom. His ample tummy preceded the rest of his body by quite a margin. After greeting him with a sheaf of betel leaves enclosing Rs 50 they could ill afford, they politely waited as Punchi Nilame did some very complex looking calculations using Channa’s birth chart and some references known as “Lithas”, all the time liberally spitting into a nearby spittoon. Eventually he straightened up and looked at them peering over his round glasses with a steel rim. His next words made Channa cry in despair. He said that this horoscope in front of him was a very blessed one (pingwanthai) but there was absolutely no chance of him becoming a doctor as the planetary configuration quite clearly and decisively shows that he is going to leave the lay life and become a priest. Of becoming a doctor, there was no chance. He could see the future as clearly as he saw them in front of them. There is one slim chance, and he emphasised that it is indeed very slim, and that is to conduct a special pooja to God Vishnu for his powerful benevolence but it would cost them Rs 5000 plus some personal expenses with the total approaching Rs 6000. Somapala asked for time to make up his mind as he will have to get into debt to raise this amount of money. Punchi Nilame very magnanimously offered to give him a big discount which would hardly leave him with any money, and stated that he would perform the whole thing for Rs 5250.

Somapala and family went away and after days of agonising, decided that they cannot go against what is written in the Stars and would not perform the Pooja. Somapala told his son that he must have done some very meritorious things in his past life to be destined to enter the priesthood and this was what he would wish for him as he wanted nothing but the best for him.

And so it happened my friends, that Channa became Bhikku Chandrawansa and it is said that he led an exemplary life and it is common acceptance that he attained Arahantship before he passed away at the age of 80.

Now to end this story, I must bring to your attention that there exists in another village, quite far from Udurutanne with no communication at all between the two villages, another famous Astrologer, Nondi Thuma (he had polio in his childhood and had a limp),who was famed for his pinpoint accuracy in predictions. Would he have predicted that Channa wanted to be a doctor but as shown in his charts, he would become a Buddhist priest instead? Now that, would be something, as he would not have influenced Channa in any way in the path he followed. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

SAITM: The way forward - A letter by Sanath Lamabadusuriya

As you probably know, there has been a string of correspondence on the controversial SAITM issue in recent times. As there were opposing and supportive viewpoints, I have refrained from posting all of them. However, since this is authored by our own batch member Sanath Lamabadusuriya and as he himself has requested me to do so, I am posting this letter from Sanath. After all, this is our batch blog! This is from today's Island newspaper.


SAITM: The way forward


During the past few weeks there have been many articles, editorials and letters regarding SAITM (South Asian Institute for Technology and Medicine).

Most have opposed it for a variety of reasons. At the outset I would like to mention that I have no vested interest in it, although several invitations were made for me to join. I retired from the Colombo Medical Faculty in 2008 and since last April I have being teaching the Rajarata Medical Students in Anuradhapura, part time. Logistically and financially it would have been better for me to teach at SAITM, but I thought Rajarata served the greater national need.

I have participated at the registration examination for foreign medical graduates (earlier called Act16 and now called ERPM) conducted by the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) since the 1970's, and therefore I am able to comment on the standards of their education acquired abroad. Some of them, mainly from countries where the medium of instruction is not English, were of a poor standard and failed repeatedly. In excess of a thousand students sit for this examination each year. What this reflects is that hundreds of our own students travel abroad for medical studies. This is obviously because of the lack of places for them in the state medical schools, although the number of schools have gradually increased over the years to eight in total. In addition, there is the Sir John Kotelawala Defence University which is semi-governmental. Therefore there is a need for private medical education in Sri Lanka. The entry criteria for such private medical schools should be similar to the state medical schools. The cutoff point of the Z score at the A level examination should be the lowest mark used by the University Grants Commission (UGC) for the district quota category or educationally under privileged areas. Scholarships should be offered to the 5% to 10% of students who are less well off after means testing.

The criticisms of SAITM include inadequate entry criteria. This can be remedied by a program of rehabilitation for current students and rigorous future entry criteria and exit exams. (If there are such students already admitted to SAITM, they should be weeded out). The SLMC inspection team commented that SAITM students have insufficient clinical exposure. The recent directive by the Supreme Court for the Ministry of Health (MOH) to allocate the Avissawella Base Hospital and Kaduwela MOH area for teaching purposes would rectify this issue to a great extent. A component of the fees paid by SAITM students for utilisation of such facilities should be given to MOH staff involved in teaching. The SAITM Hospital in Malabe is huge, but is under-utilised perhaps because of its location. It has excellent staff consisting of recently retired MOH consultants and University teachers on long leave, who are comparable with staff of the state medical colleges.

The critics of Private Medical Education in Sri Lanka are silent about the entry criteria to foreign medical schools. The UGC should monitor the entry to Private Medical Schools (PMS) in Sri Lanka and the SLMC should keep a close check on the standards of teaching. At the examinations, external examiners from other medical faculties should participate so as to maintain standards.

I strongly feel that if the above steps are taken, we could have Private Medical Schools functioning in Sri Lanka for the benefit of hundreds of students who were short of a few marks to gain entry to a state medical school. It would save valuable foreign exchange lost to the country and our parents would have close contact with their children for five to six years. It would also attract foreign students who could be charged a higher fee and such funds utilised to offer scholarships to local students.

In the 1980s the North Colombo Medical College was established by the Sri Lanka College of General Practitioners which was the first PMS in Sri Lanka in recent times .It produced many excellent graduates some of whom are consultants in the MOH and members of the academic staff of state medical colleges. It was taken over by the government when it tried to confer the University of Colombo degree to their graduates. As a result of this venture the infra-structure of the Ragama Teaching Hospital improved tremendously. The same thing may happen to the Avissawella Base Hospital.

Prof. Sanath P. Lamabadusuriya

New Year Greetings from Razaque

Wishing all Friends, Well-wishers, viewers of our blog, Batchmates and their dear families
A very happy, Healthy and Peaceful New Year--- 2016.

"Oba samatama asaneepayen thora, danayen pirunu, vasnawath  suba aluth aurrudah uda wewa.

Nawa vasaray obasamatma kiri ithiraywa".

Razaque, Farina and Family

Happy New Year!

I wish all viewers a very Happy New Year - 2016!