ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday March 2, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 40

A visionary in the health sector and more so a considerate friend

Dr. Malinga Fernando

My association with Dr. Malinga Fernando dates back to the mid 1970's when he was a Deputy Director-General of Health Services. I was then in the Attorney-General's Department handling many matters for the Ministry of Health. I recall Malinga telling me how grateful he was to my father for having helped him with the subject of Mathematics for the pre-university entrance examination. He is one person who never missed attending the Memorial Lectures held annually on February 14 in memory of my father.

It was during his long stint with the World Health Organization in Geneva that my wife Shanti and I became close family friends of Malinga, his wife Chinta and their two daughters. Malinga had a challenging assignment, namely to work with the least developed countries to strengthen their health systems. Limited human resources, infrastructure constraints, logistical problems, difficult terrain in the delivery of supplies and unsettled political systems compounded the problems faced by large numbers below the poverty line who were denied access even to basic health services. Mongolia was one country that was assigned to him. Though it is difficult to quantify, it cannot be gainsaid that improvements in the country's health indicators are a testimony to the pioneering efforts of Malinga and his colleagues. Formulating country specific solutions in tandem with local partners that could be sustained in the long-term without being dependent on foreign assistance was a key lesson to be learned from interventions in such countries.

On Malinga's return to Sri Lanka I had the good fortune to recruit him as a consultant to be associated with me in Nepal to develop a master plan for the prevention of drug abuse. He was highly respected within health circles in that country and made an invaluable contribution to the development of the plan. He was also commissioned by the Insurance Board to develop a concept paper for a national health insurance scheme.

Malinga belonged to a small group of doctors who decided to pursue a career in medical administration instead of the more lucrative specialties. During his official career both as Director-General and later as Secretary he made a significant contribution to many fields, including the regulation of drugs. He served with distinction on a number of Boards including that of the State Pharmaceuticals Corporation. He was known in medical and administrative circles as a tough taskmaster and disciplinarian. Even today health personnel recall how as a young Medical Superintendent he would start the day by looking into minute details of all aspects to ensure that everything was up to perfection.

Despite his reputation of being a tough taskmaster who did not tolerate any nonsense at the workplace, Malinga had yet another side - he was a kind and compassionate human-being who went out of his way to help those in need. In the event of any sickness, he was one person whom we could have called day or night for guidance and he would without fail follow-up daily to monitor your condition.

Malinga passed away after a brief illness on January 9. With his demise we have lost a top health administrator and visionary and a dear and considerate friend. Such people are rare indeed. May he attain Nirvana.

By Dr. Dayanath Jayasuriya.

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