Fervent promise from 129th President Dr Vinya Ariyaratne who takes over in turbulent times By Kumudini Hettiarachchi   He has taken on the mantle of the oldest medical professional body in Asia and Australasia at a time when multiple crises are impacting not only the health sector but also Sri Lanka. The vision for the 136-year-old [...]


Vision of ‘humane healthcare’ for SLMA


  • Fervent promise from 129th President Dr Vinya Ariyaratne who takes over in turbulent times

By Kumudini Hettiarachchi  

He has taken on the mantle of the oldest medical professional body in Asia and Australasia at a time when multiple crises are impacting not only the health sector but also Sri Lanka.

The vision for the 136-year-old Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) in these turbulent times is crystal clear, as Dr Vinya Ariyaratne took over as the 129th President at a brief but impactful induction at the BMICH in Colombo on January 14 (last Saturday).

Dr Vinya Ariyaratne delivering his address after his induction as the SLMA’s 129th President.

With many distinguished personalities from various fields in the audience, resonating with Dr Ariyaratne’s background as a Consultant Community Physician who is currently President of the Sarvodaya Movement, many paid tribute to the fact that no politicians were on the podium or in the audience. The Sarvodaya Movement is the largest non-government development organisation working across the country.

With the year’s theme being ‘Towards Humane Healthcare: Excellence, Equity, Community’, the newly-inducted President focused on the present crisis in Sri Lanka but went beyond the more obvious challenges in the health sector – Covid-19 and emerging pandemics, the changing epidemiological pattern, food and nutrition crisis, and shortage of medicinal drugs.

It was the “deeper” social crisis and the response as a responsible profession that he elaborated on. “Sri Lanka is currently experiencing an unprecedented multi-faceted crisis that is rooted in economic, political and governance issues, as well as a systemic failure. The people’s struggle of 2022 confirmed this and reflected that people, and most importantly the next generation, aspire for better systems to be in place that include better health services. There is increased societal pressure for a redefinition and strengthening of ethical standards.”

He underscored that as politicians are being called upon to listen to the people, support reforms and uphold justice, there is an equal expectation from the medical community to take responsibility for past mistakes, implement necessary reforms and uphold ethical principles.

Moving onto whether it was possible to identify potential advantages arising from a state of disequilibrium, Dr Ariyaratne said the quest for answers may lie in taking a “systems view” of the situation. “As a system, we are in a state of disequilibrium. Physicists describe it as a state that is ‘far from equilibrium’. These states encourage creativity, innovation and new thinking. They are characterised by the interesting concept of the ‘butterfly effect’………….a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil leading to a cascade of events that end up as a storm in the Indian Ocean. A small intervention could have a huge impact on the system!

“Therefore, I am convinced that the current state of disequilibrium presents a unique opportunity for creativity and growth,” said Dr Ariyaratne, explaining about the ‘Trishula’, a common feature of Hindu art and literature. This ornamental weapon with three spikes, symbolises various trinities of human existence: Past, Present and Future; Body, Mind and Soul; and also Clarity, Knowledge and Wisdom.

Dr Vinya Ariyaratne being inducted as the SLMA President and presented with the medal by Outgoing President Prof Samath Dharmaratne.

He went on to say that the trinity that “we hope to carry in our quest for more humane healthcare is ‘Excellence, Equity and Community’, which are inter-related concepts. Excelling in clinical work, health promotion, prevention, rehabilitation and palliative care which can be achieved through effective governance mechanisms that are transparent, accountable and inclusive”.

The demand for equity, meanwhile, was a fundamental call by the people including youth. This was a call very close to his heart and this call needed to be heeded through actions at the level of the health system, the social determinants of health inequalities and community engagement. It is imperative that the healthcare system aligns with the needs of the population, responds to the changing needs and actively involves people to improve overall health and well-being, he stressed.

Promising to strengthen the SLMA’s existing expert committees, Dr Ariyaratne said he would also broaden the scope or create new ones to achieve the goal of ‘Humane Healthcare’. “We need to work on finding sustainable financing options for providing Universal Health Care (UHC), how we address issues related to human resources in the health sector, shortages of medicinal drugs, improve efficiency and enhance ethical practice and accountability. We will continue to engage with the public and policymakers more vigorously.”

The distinguished guests including at the far left Dr A T Ariyaratne and his wife Neetha

  • New President’s three-point plan
  • The current crisis in Sri Lanka has two dimensions – the ‘seen’ and ‘unseen’, Dr Vinya Ariyaratne told the Sunday Times in an interview on Wednesday.
  • The ‘seen’ is the medicinal shortages, the human resource brain drain and state doctors being affected by taxation and retirement.
  • The ‘unseen’ is the rising cost of medicines and people not being able to access healthcare due to various issues, including transport costs.
  • He said that as a professional organisation, the SLMA has
  • a three-pronged role:
  • Be the voice of guidance backed by science and evidence when policy is formed. This role has been played very effectively over the years and he and his council would continue this tradition for the health and well-being of the people.
  • In the past three years, marred by the COVID-19 pandemic and the severe economic crunch, there has been a disruption in the efficient delivery of health services. Here what needs to be done is not just restoration but also reflecting on past mistakes and moulding and positioning of the health system to ward off such disruptions to do better in the future. There have been truly committed health personnel who responded to the past difficulties amidst resource limitations with very innovative measures.
  • The SLMA, with an active membership of around 4,000 at a given time, being the only organisation for all doctors, specialists and non-specialists, hopes to play the role of a mentor and friend for many in the peripheries who perform a great silent service. This would help boost their physical as well as mental well-being.
  • Dr Ariyaratne hopes to achieve his vision through three structural inputs.
  • By promoting ethical practice.
  • By highlighting not only the fact that doctors need to be strongly aware of patients’ rights but also making patients aware of their obligations through awareness campaigns. An example for the latter is patients being responsible when taking their medicines and not stopping halfway when they feel better.
  • By turning a strong focus on community engagement in health promotion and prevention so that fewer people fall ill.

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