The recently appointed Competent Authority to manage Disaster Response Activities of the Health Ministry Dr. Athula Kahandaliyanage refuted allegations made by the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) last week that he was unfit for the post.
In a media statement he said that he was surprised to see the allegations made by a trade union requesting President to rescind his appointment made by Minister of Health to function as the Competent Authority to manage the Disaster Response activities of the health sector.
“The Hon Health Minister requested me to coordinate and lead the disaster response activities of the Health Ministry giving guidance and support to the Health Ministry Programme considering the vast experience I have gained in my career in Sri Lanka and in the UN in disaster management and response and also considering the valuable service I have rendered as the then Director General of Health Services and Permanent Secretary / Heath.
I was the longest and youngest serving DGHS and I had the rare opportunity of leading the Tsunami response and reconstruction activities in 2005, the worst disaster that has ever struck this country.
Thereafter, as Permanent Secretary of Health I lead the successful campaign conducted by the state to provide health services to a large numbers of internally displaced people during the final stages of the war in the North in 2009.
Both these- disaster management and response efforts -were hailed and commended by the international community and also by the Director General of WHO, who came from Geneva to visit the disaster affected areas in Sri Lanka. I also received a special award for that work by Her Excellency the then President of Sri Lanka.
In recognition of my contributions to the management of these national calamities and also my service to the national health services of Sri Lanka, I was awarded the rare honour by the World Health Organization by appointing me as its Director in charge of the Department of Emergency and Disaster Management, Sustainable Development, Environmental Health, NCDs, Mental Health and Health Systems for the South East Asia Region, which is the largest of the six WHO regions in the world covering 26% of world's population, based in New Delhi.
I served in these capacities for over four years and gathered a lot of experience in disaster management. I am bold and proud to state that I am therefore, competent and qualified to serve in this capacity above anyone else in Sri Lanka today and I consider it my utmost duty to step forward and offer my services at a time of national crisis.
I am also proud to state that I have done so without any remuneration using my own personal funds and I am proud that I got an opportunity to do so. Since the Ministry Secretary and the DGHS have both retired recently the Hon Minister requested me to help the Ministry to coordinate and manage the disaster response work as a service to the country. I thank the Hon Health Minister for using my services at a time of crisis. I happy to state that I was commended by the Health Ministry officials and the UN and other relevant agencies for conducting this work well.
I also serve as the Chairman of Sri Jayawardenepura Hospital helping the government to improve that hospital which I have done very successfully as shown by the performance indicators, during the past two years. I was appointed to this position by His Excellency and the Hon Minister of Health.
The salary I am entitled as Chairman/SJGH, I have dedicated to a hospital fund which pays bills of those who cannot afford. I consider this work without a pay, as another opportunity to serve my motherland who gave me free education to become a doctor. Never in my tenure at SJGH have I done any marketing and branding of any dairy products in the hospital. The staff would vouch for this.
In my retirement after returning to Sri Lanka I was offered to serve on the Board of Directors of the leading dairy company which provides the much required and recommended dairy nutrition especially liquid milk to our people. It is also investing heavily on the local dairy drive of the government.
I am proud to state that this company does not import or sell infant milk foods that violate the breast feeding code and campaign of the WHO and that of Sri Lanka. It respects and honours the national policy and its efforts to promote breast feeding in Sri Lanka.
On the contrary this company has been supporting and sponsoring the breast feeding campaigns conducted by the government working with all the relevant leading professional bodies, over the last few years. It has spent millions of rupees to promote breast feeding in Sri Lanka.
It is misleading to state that the WHO does not approve anyone working in a dairy industry to get involved with disaster management work. It's only the infant food advertising that the WHO discourages in its breast feeding code. It is unethical and unprofessional for anyone responsible to mislead the policy makers and the public making such frivolous and baseless statements in an incriminatory manner.
l would appreciate if the authors of this misleading campaign got their facts straight before writing such irresponsible statements I feel sorry for their ignorance and hope they would act in a more professional, responsible, and an ethical manner in the future.” -Dr. Athula Kahandaliyanage, Chairman Sri Jayawardenepura Hospital.