The Sunday TimesPlus

15th Septemeber 1996



Taking technology to new frontiers

Potentials of Progress
by Hiranthi Fernando

The Ceylon Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research (CISIR), located at the junction of Bauddhaloka Mawatha and Maitland Place, plays an important role in the industrial and technological development in the country. On a recommendation of the World Bank, CISIR was established in 1955 by an Act of Parliament.

Its purpose was to assist in the industrialization of Sri Lanka by conducting scientific and industrial research, development and transfer of technology and providing technical services to industry. Today, it is recognized as the nation's leading multidisciplinary industrial research and development institute.

Housed in a complex of five buildings, the CISIR is well equipped with physical, chemical and microbiological laboratories, pilot plant, engineering workshop, technical library with reference and lending facilities and in-house computer services. The Institute carries out a range of functions geared to fulfill its mission of promoting technological and industrial growth, leading Sri Lanka to NIC status. The research activities of the Institute are performed through five divisions, Agro and Food Technology, Chemical and Environmental Technology, Materials Technology, Process and Plant Engineering and Corporate Services. Two units, namely Calibration and Measurements, and Electro Technology also provide facilities to industry.

"The Institute carries out research and development with respect to projects considered to be of national importance", said Dr. Nirmala Pieris who heads the Corporate Services Division. This division is responsible for promoting the corporate image of the Institute, marketing its services, identifying and evaluating new opportunities.

Dr. Pieirs said the in-house projects are funded by CISIR. At present, an in house project on medicinal plants is in progress. However, due to the limited financial support from the government, the number of in house projects are necessarily curtailed. Thus, the staff solicit funding from various funding organisations for some projects they need to carry out.

In selecting funded projects, some areas are identified as of national importance. The post harvest management of fruits and vegetables is one such area. Many cultivators in the country have scant knowledge of preserving the quality of their products until they are sold, resulting in spoilage. Research is being conducted on treatment and methods of prolonging the fresh fruits and vegetables until they reach the market. This research programme would be a boon to cultivators. Training programmes with lectures, discussions and practical demonstrations are conducted for those interested in improving post harvest procedures.

Under a grant from the Natural Resources, Energy and Science Authority (NARESA), a project is underway to study the chemicals responsible for the mosquito repellent properties of the local Madurutala plant. This plant has long been used locally as a mosquito repellent. Funded studies are also being conducted on anti-inflammatory drugs used in Ayurveda and the emission of green house gases from biomass used in domestic cooking.

An important aspect of the institute's functions is its support to industry. Research and development activities are undertaken to improve the quality of products and processes used in industry. Technical services, training of technical staff and consultancy are provided. Development of new technologies, their adaptation and technology transfers also come within the scope of the Institute.

Mrs. Pieris said the CISIR undertakes contract projects whereby various organisations contract the Institute to carry out projects of interest to them. Projects have been carried out for the EDB, Janasaviya Trust fund, UNID, USAID and private sector companies.

Effluent treatment systems have been designed for several manufacturing industries such as jewellery, paint, desiccated coconut, fibre glass boats, steel furniture, construction hardware, fish/prawn processing, thread processing and galvanising. Air control systems have been designed for a metal crusher foundry and galvanising plants, exhaust systems for spray painting booths and service stations as well as water treatment systems for a swimming pool.

"The largest income earner for CISIR is from customised and standard services which we provide to industry", said Dr. Pieris. Analysis and testing is carried out on a wide range of areas, and products. Agro chemicals, agroproducts, building materials, flavours and fragrances, industrial chemicals and products, industrial plant and machinery, industrial waste management, medicinal and aromatic plants, minerals, paints, paper and pulp, plastics, potable and industrial water, rubber and timber are some areas of expertise. Repair, maintenance and testing of biomedical, industrial and laboratory equipment are included in the services. Calibration facilities for industry are provided as well as measurement of temperature, illumination, sound and environmental noise pollution is undertaken. Noise and vibration levels are measured using precision sound/vibration level meters. A follow up consultancy service is also available for reduction of these levels to conform to specifications of the Central Environmental Authority.

A glass blowing facility which has been established undertakes the fabrication and repair of glassware for laboratories. "Glassware equipment required for labs is very expensive to import", said Dr. Pieris. "CISIR undertakes the fabrication of special glass apparatus to meet customers' specific requirements. Items such as measuring cylinders, burettes, volumetric flasks, separating funnels and the more sophisticated soxhlet extractors and gas/liquid separators can be repaired by this facility".

An important contribution has been made by CISIR to local industry by technology transfers. Studies have been carried out and technologies developed for products in various fields. Many of these technologies have been transferred to industry. In the food industry for instance, a range of products based on cereals, legumes, coconut, cashew, fruit and vegetables, dairy products and confectionery have been developed and offered to entrepreneurs. Instant hopper, string hopper and thosai mixes, breakfast cereals, bottled coconut milk and coconut paste, instant curries, soup mixes, dessert mixes, herbal drinks and tea based beverages are some food products that have been successfully developed.

At an exhibition of Women Entrepreneurship organised by Asia & Pacific Centre for Transfer of Technology held in New Delhi this year, several representatives from Sri Lanka exhibited products for which technologies were provided by CISIR. Boron treated bamboo crafts, adhesives for paper and corrugated board and dehydrated fruits and vegetables were some of these products.

Handmade paper and board using rice straw, waste paper and rags has recently been offered to entrepreneurs by CISIR. The Institute has also successfully developed the technologies for a range of Aloe Vera products such as a cream for burn applications, moisturisers, cold cream, hand cream, shampoo and body gels. Clinical trials carried out at the General Hospital, Colombo have shown this Aloe Vera cream to have effective healing properties. A sunscreen cream with sun protection factor equivalent to imported samples has also been developed using Aloe Vera, Carrot and Gotukola extracts. These technologies are now available to local entrepreneurs. Sample batches for test marketing trials, information and advice on equipment and suppliers and assistance with preparation of feasibility reports will also be given to prospective entrepreneurs.

Maximising the utilization of natural resources through industrial processing was another aspect which the CISIR concentrated on particularly during its early years. Many projects were carried out with the aim of adding value to local natural resources. Although these projects did not achieve the expected outputs by commercialization, the CISIR gained much valuable technical expertise for the future. During the course of its research, many patents have been granted to the Institute. CISIR has recently developed a process of treatment by which bamboo trees could be preserved from insect attack for 20 30 years. The treated bamboo could be used for construction purposes as in other Asian countries, thus enhancing its value. With this technolgy, an entrepreneur is using the preserved bamboo to construct ceilings. This could reduce the pressure on conventional timbers and thus curtail deforestation. Bamboo is found to be one of the fastest growing and highest yielding renewable natural resources.

"We provide library and information services to industry and the scientific community", said Dr. Pieris speaking of their Information Centre. "The Information Centre is open to the public. Corporate and individual membership can be obtained. Our library is one of the best technical libraries in the country. A computer group co ordinates the information systems of the Institute."

With a major reorganization in 1993, CISIR today has become demand driven and market oriented. For the future, in view of the limitations of resources and capability the Institute intends to concentrate on carefully selected priority areas. At the same time, an intensive programme to enhance resources and capability and widen its scope is planned. The aim is to create a demand for CISIR services and develop a new commercial image for the Institute.

Sick giant: is it the beginning of the end?

Point of View
by Specialist, Kegalle

Recently, there has been a lot of debate on the subject of private practice done by government medical consultants and the medical officers. As a government medical consultant performing off-duty private practice I wish to place before the public some salient features about the above practice.

Health Ministers and officials of yesteryear have granted this concession of off-duty practice to doctors for many a reason, primarily to stem the exodus of doctors to greener pastures abroad. It also gives the opportunity to the patient to consult the best medical personnel in the land for a very nominal fee. Also in their wisdom they have established a group of employees in the health sector with a high degree of job satisfaction and motivation. Everybody agrees that the health sector is a sick giant. An optimal service cannot be extended primarily because of the sheer numbers thronging the hospitals. Everywhere in the world government sponsored health sectors remain stagnant without private sector contributions. It will be seen that it is the ebullience of these doctors that persistently prods this sick giant to perform its daily cures.

The duty of a doctor is significantly different from that of another public sector employee. A doctor is supposed to attend to every patient who comes to him for assistance. After seeing 100 patients the failure to see the next patient will be constituted as an act of medical negligence.

It is a custom in this country for an expectant mother to go to her maternal home for her confinement. An expectant mother or a person with a tumour (growth) requiring surgery, say from Anuradhapura, may go to a government hospital in Matara, and the doctors there are obliged to attend to them. Will the OIC of a police station in Matara entertain a complaint from Anuradhapura?

During my five year tenure at the General Hospital Badulla, the hospitals of the Eastern province were very poorly manned. Most of the dreaded patient transfers came from hospitals in the Eastern province. It takes eight hours for a patient with obstructed labour from the Pottuvil hospital to reach Badulla via Ampara. Most of these patients were cataclysmic on admission with a ruptured womb etc. and needed two to three hour operations with 10-20 pints of blood transfusion. Theoretically my appointment was to attend to the patients of the Uva province and it is the responsibility of the Health Department to man the hospitals of the Eastern province (In Western terms the necessity to attend to these patients was not on my contract). Regularly patients are transferred from hospitals of the Southern province to Colombo due to breakdown of services there and these patients are expeditiously attended to.

Doctors are compelled to work every other weekend when all employees of the public sector are granted leave. In my 20 year professional life I have therefore worked on over 1000 Sundays. there is no extra remuneration or granting of lieu-leave for working on Sundays. I would have wished to be at home with my family on Sundays, like my next door neighbour who is an accountant. But alas this is not to be. There is no law in the Establishment Code or in the Health Department minutes which can compel a doctor to work on a Sunday without extra payment. It is all done by convention. If the doctors refuse to work on Sundays the Department will be hard pressed to enforce it.

In General Hospitals doctors, especially consultants, cannot take leave unless another consultant from the same specialty agrees to cover up the duties. This consultant then has to look after the patients and perform all the urgent operations of the consultant on leave in addition to his own ward work.

Doctors, especially those working in smaller peripheral hospitals, are supposed to work as 'jacks of all trades'. They have to perform the duties of a Nurse, midwife, attendant and even that of a labourer, if the need arises. During my early tenure as a Medical Officer In-Charge of a peripheral hospital with one sanitary labourer, there were many times when I assisted the other staff in cleaning the hospital toilets in the absence of the labourer and many babies have been delivered by me alone in candlelight. During the recent power crisis when the hospital elevators were not functioning I have seen doctors help to carry semi-conscious patients upstairs after surgery to the post-operation wards situated in the upper floors when labourers could not be found.

The working hours of a ward doctor is from 8 am to 12 noon and then from 2 pm to 4 pm. The clinics and the operating sessions invariably drag beyond these times. Can any reader point out any hospital where the operating sessions routinely stop at 12 noon or 4 pm? Operations are performed until all the patients on the operating list have been operated on or when the list has to be stopped to allow another surgeon to operate.

Unlike, say in the United Kingdom where an operating session means surgery on a single operating table where the surgeon operates assisted by his many assistants, here in Sri Lanka in one operating session the surgeon operates on one operating table, his Senior House Officer on another table in the next operating theatre and the House Officer on the third side-table doing minor cases, all under the supervision and responsibility of the consultant surgeon. Therefore four to five times the number of operations are performed in this country per operating session just to clear the massive number of patients admitted daily to the surgical wards. Is it fair to tax the doctors to this length just to cover-up the inability of the Ministry to open up new hospitals and surgical units? The afternoon operating list invariably extends up to 6 pm or sometimes beyond this well into the night, doctors sacrificing their time which they may have used to indulge in private practice.

Women totalling 8000 and 6000, respectively, deliver each year in the General Hospitals Badulla and Kegalle. Two maternity consultants in each hospital head the teams managing this work load. The Sri Lanka College of Obstetricians has set a limit of 2000 deliveries per year per consultant as it would be difficult to provide a reasonable service beyond this. In the United Kindgom this number is 600 and when this is exceeded another post of consultant is created as otherwise when there is medical litigation the courts will hold the Health Department responsible. Therefore presently doctors are handling a work load two to three times the maximum determined and this is growing each year!

Ward doctors and all medical consultants are on-call at their respective wards either daily or every- other-day, after working hours. No extra duty is paid to medical consultants for these duties performed after working hours although he has to sacrifice the time he may more profitably use for private practice. In the specialties of surgery and maternity these calls invariably necessitate long hours of surgery in the operating theatre. Medical consultants are the only category of public sector employees who perform duties after working hours, travelling to and from the hospital in their own private vehicles, without getting paid for it.

There are only six annual increments in the medical specialist salary scale. Then you reach the maximum and for the next 20 years you get the same salary! The basic salary of a teacher is now more than a junior doctor. A medical representative (drug promotion salesman) gets a salary twice that of a doctor!

It would be ideal to have a referral system for specialist consultation in this country. There are some very good family physicians in this country and we could then devote more time for the problematical cases. However as all the family physicians are in the private sector it would be less costly for the patient to consult the specialist directly. Even in the United Kingdom, where the referral system from the Government General Practitioners' functions efficiently, the right of any person to consult privately any doctor of his choice, is guaranteed. How nice it would be if we could seek the advice of a Presidents Counsel for Rs. 120/= instead of the usual retaining fee of Rs. 75,000/=!

Look at the cost effectiveness of the Health Service today. If you go to courts for litigation or complain to the Police about stolen property what is the probability of obtaining relief in a short period; less than 10 percent! If you go to a government hospital for confinement or for emergency surgery what is the probability of delivering a healthy baby or having the operation performed; close to 99 percent.

Ask any private sector manager and he will tell you that the key to an efficient service is a contended workforce with a high degree of job satisfaction. The problem with the public service is that it is manned by employees dissatisfied, due to financial, political and other reasons. In the health service therefore you have this group of employees (doctors) with a high degree of job satisfaction and motivation. Whenever a Health Minister or the directors visit a hospital there is clamour from the specialists for more beds, more wards, equipment, e.g., the ability to see more patients, to do more work and to give a better service. Where else in the public sector would you find employees clamouring for more work! Off-duty private practice is one of the many factors that motivates this group of employees. It also gives the patient the opportunity of consulting the best medical personnel in the land for a very nominal fee. Its abolition will undoubtedly mark the beginning of the end for the sick giant.

Continue to Plus page 3 - Break the silence: solving violence against women * Siripala: dressing room diplomat

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