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One man's crusade against official apathy

Author: Dr Dhanapala Rodrigo MD
An author publication
Reviewed by R. S. Karunaratne

Dr Dhanapala Rodrigo's An Unfinished Journey is a well-documented story of a Sri Lankan doctor's struggle for a better healthcare system in his country. Here is a medical practitioner who graduated from the University of Peradeniya.

After serving the Health Department for five years he migrated to the United States where he practised as a consultant anaesthesiologist. He is a Fellow of the American College of Anaesthesiologists and a Diplomate of the American Board of Anaesthesiology.

Over the past 20 years, Dr Rodrigo volunteered to improve the healthcare system especially restructuring the outpatient services in Sri Lanka. The Kandy Society of Medicine honoured him in 2004 for the contribution he had made to improve the healthcare of fellow Sri Lankans. The Sri Lanka College of Paediatricians invited him to address the annual sessions in 2004 on the topic “A vision for our healthcare.”

As he says in the introduction, every doctor has a story to tell. He has seen the smiles and more tears of patients queuing at local hospitals. Even as an internee he was shocked to see patients dumped on the floor for want of beds. At the beginning he thought that denying beds to patients was a worldwide event. However, after he migrated to the United States he did not see patients on the floor. Every patient was given a bed until he was discharged.

Queues

On the other hand, he was appalled to see patients wasting time in long queues to consult a doctor. Some patients come to the hospital on the previous day to obtain a number and receive treatment on the following day. Another unhealthy sign he witnessed in Sri Lanka was that many patients in wards did not leave hospital even when they recover.

His exposure to the healthcare system in the United States has changed his outlook. Instead of enjoying all the comforts in his adopted country, Dr Rodrigo decided to do something to improve the standards in local hospitals. He came to Sri Lanka on several occasions, conducted training sessions for interns and nurses. He also donated certain medical equipment to hospitals to give the public a better health service.

In the book he records his successes and failures vividly. Very often he had to put up with official apathy and inefficiency. Some health officials never wanted to change themselves or the healthcare system. However, against all such odds, he managed to do some tangible service to the local hospitals. The ultimate beneficiaries were the patients who had no say in these matters. It is praiseworthy on his part to record his experiences and genuine feelings for posterity.

Solutions

Towards the end of the book Dr Rodrigo says, “Unfortunately, I have not been able to excite the law-makers of the successive governments. They are not easily movable, and are incredibly busy.

There must be a way to impress upon them that the people, especially the poor, are suffering and that there are simple solutions to ameliorate that suffering. I lament that I never found the art of relating to law-makers.”

Dr Dhanapala Rodrigo has retired and lives in the United States. He visits Sri Lanka occasionally.

An Unfinished Journey is a must read for all medical practitioners, law-makers and the general reader because Dr Rodrigo's message is loud and clear.

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