The magnificent relationship: A tribute where it is due
The Sri Lanka College of Paediatricians (SLCP) celebrates its 25th birthday in 2021, the same year as the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) of the United Kingdom. In cricketing parlance, we just about beat them to it, albeit only by just a few months.
The SLCP is the continuum of its much-respected forerunner, the Ceylon Paediatric Association, originally initiated in 1953, and which became the Sri Lanka Paediatric Association in 1972. Today our membership has grown from just a few in the 1950s to nearly 500 dedicated paediatricians serving in Sri Lanka and abroad. I am ever so proud, and seminally privileged, to be the 61st President of this august institution, with a dazzling track record right up to this Silver Jubilee year.
In the 1940s there were no designated paediatricians in Sri Lanka. Child health was an appendage of adult medicine, in deference to a belief that children were indeed miniature adults. Child mortality rates were sky-high. Then came along the set of the very first Sri Lankan paediatricians who were trained in the United Kingdom. It started a cascade of events where successive generations of paediatricians were trained in the UK on various aspects of paediatrics. These dedicated clinicians were the torchbearers who changed the landscape of Sri Lankan child healthcare. With those British-trained paediatricians putting their collective shoulder to the wheel, the scenario started to change in the country.Slowly, but surely, a new era in paediatric care began to unfold in Sri Lanka.
In a fast-forward manoeuvre of this tale, from 1996 itself, the SLCP started to develop more and more meaningful ties with the RCPCH. A dedicated senior examiner was sent from the RCPCH every year to maintain the required standards of the MD (Paediatrics) examination of the Postgraduate Institute of Medicine in Sri Lanka. That degree, the cornerstone for a career as a Consultant Paediatrician, was the crowning glory for a Sri Lankan paediatrician. Then the RCPCH started to facilitate the successful candidates to come over to the UK, get their GMC registration and be trained in the finer aspects of paediatric care before they returned to Sri Lanka as Consultant Paediatricians in the Sri Lankan National Health Service.
The child mortality rates started to come down from the dizzy heights of the 1950s. Our rates at present are considered to be some of the lowest among developing countries. We are acclaimed the world over as a shining example of a country that has achieved so much with so few of the necessary resources. In that perspective, we owe the RCPCH an incomparable debt of gratitude.
When Sri Lanka started to develop paediatric sub-specialties, the RCPCH was right behind us. One of the first sub-specialties was the neediest: neonatology. At that time, a large chunk of child mortality was due to neonatal deaths. When our neonatologists started to come back to Sri Lanka after their two years of training in centres of excellence in the UK, our neonatal mortality rates started to come down from double to single digits.
From a personal perspective, I was one of the trainees who benefitted from the relationship between the RCPCH and SCLP. I trained in paediatric gastroenterology and endoscopy at John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, in 2002, under that great clinician and researcher Professor Peter Sullivan. He trained me on basic research concepts as well. As for me, the rest is history. We started research ventures in paediatric functional gastrointestinal disorders and started the first medical paediatrician-driven endoscopy service in the country, as well as the first dedicated paediatric gastroenterology clinic in Sri Lanka. We look after children with a plethora of bowel disorders and liver diseases. I was also able to publish a few key articles on childhood constipation in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, the flagship journal of the RCPCH. I am greatly beholden to the RCPCH for all that I have achieved in my professional life.
There are many more paediatricians in Sri Lanka who could write reams of their stories of success that they have achieved through the fostering association with the RCPCH.
All these were possible due to just one reason: the excellent relationship that we have between our two colleges. I believe our rapport will grow even stronger as the two institutions mature. There is a lot more to be done through this connection in the future. We need the crucial support of the RCPCH to develop our speciality and look forward to learning from the expertise of the RCPCH to improve and lead the way to achieve excellence in child healthcare in Asia when we celebrate our 50th birthday together.
We wish the RCPCH a very happy birthday this year. May our links go from strength to strength.