An exemplar of sustainability: IDRC’s funding of the National Poisons Information Center of Sri Lanka

Posted on January 15, 2012  /  0 Comments

Conventional evaluation privileges short-term outcomes (if it gets to outcomes at all). This is unavoidable. As a teacher I used to think that the true results of my efforts would be seen five-ten-fifteen years down the road. But my university needed to know how good a teacher I was every quarter or every year, so remedial action could be taken or my good/bad teaching could be factored into my next pay raise or promotion. How my students did fifteen years later was the true test, but the time frame was wrong for what the university had to do.

Development research is also like that. The true effects may be seen 25 years later, but by that time the unit that funded the research may no longer exist. The Information Science Division of the International Development Research Centre of Canada (IDRC) supported Dr Ravindra Fernando to establish the National Poison Information Center somewhere in the 1980s. Here is testimony in 2012 from someone who had no direct contact with IDRC about its effects:

As a young intern in the early 1990s, working in a Base Hospital in Nuwara Eliya, we had to treat many patients who arrived in hospital after poisoning. They were mostly poor people working in the estates or who were in vegetable cultivation. Poisons, especially insecticides and weedicides were household items for many of them. Some died, especially those who came late to hospital, but many survived.

Relatives of those who died gradually accepted the fate of the deceased; they said it was the wish of the gods. They thanked us for our heroic efforts, often in the middle of the night to save their kith and kin.

For the families of those who survived, we were the gods who performed a miracle. It was the humble gratitude of these poor people who kept us going. Little would they have known that it was not us but science that saved their lives. The science on the principles of management of poisoning was put into pen by the renowned academic and the most senior Professor of Forensic Medicine of the University of Colombo, Prof. Ravindra Fernando who was also the pioneer who started the National Poisons Information Centre many years ago.

And the reviewer goes on to describe the author, including the funding support from IDRC. The Information Sciences Division is no more. The program officer who approved the project has long moved on. But the fact that Canadian tax payers’ money continues to save lives is acknowledged.

No review of a book is complete without a few words on the man whose pen was behind the writing. Professor Ravindra Fernando, my beloved teacher, qualified as a doctor with M.B.B.S. (Ceylon) from the University of Sri Lanka in 1975. He passed his Diploma in Medical Jurisprudence (Clinical and Pathology) London in 1980. He also has the degrees of FRCP from the Royal Colleges of Physicians, London, Edinburgh and Glasgow, FRCPath.(UK), MD (Sri Lanka), FCCP and FCCGP. He is the recipient of WHO Fellowships on ‘Medical Education’. He has over 80 academic publications and presentations to his credit and has written over 15 books, published in Sri Lanka and abroad.

He has held many prestigious positions including as the President of the Asia Pacific Association of Medical Toxicology, the founder Secretary General of the Indo-Pacific Association of Law, Medicine and Science, President of the Sri Lanka Medical Association, President of the Ceylon College of Physicians, President of the College of Forensic Pathologists of Sri Lanka and the Chairman of the Board of Studies in Forensic Medicine, Post Graduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo. Most of all he is the Father of the National Poisons Information Centre, which he established in the General Hospital, Colombo using funds mobilised from his own personal efforts through the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada and other donors.

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