One man's crusade against official apathy
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.
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
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.
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