[Ip-health] Dr K. Balasubramaniam Will Be Missed

Jamie Love james.love at keionline.org
Fri May 6 04:19:33 PDT 2011


Dr K. Balasubramaniam Will Be Missed

On April 18, 2011, Dr Kumariah Balasubramaniam died at his home in Sri
Lanka. He was 84-years-old. Known to consumer rights community simply
as Dr. Bala, or Bala, he was a towering figure in the public health
community, and he will be missed by his family, friends and
professional colleagues.

I first met Dr. Bala in a 1996 meeting in Bielefeld, Germany that had
been organized by Health Action International (HAI), a large network
of physicians, pharmacists, public health workers and health
activists. Dr. Bala, along with others, organized perhaps the first
international meeting of public health groups to look at the impact of
trade agreements. The World Trade Organization (WTO) had come into
existence in 1995, and with it, a new agreement on Trade Related
Aspects of Intellectual Property (the TRIPS Agreement) that set out
tough new standards for patents and other intellectual property
rights. Dr. Bala and others organized the event to evaluate the
consequences on poor people living in developing countries.

At the 1996 Bielefeld event, Dr. Bala's presentation was memorable, in
part because of the compelling data he presented to illustrate his
concerns about the impact of patents on drug prices and access to
medicines, and in part because of his scholarly research, lucid
presentation style, wry sense of humor and caring attitude. Over the
years, I have seen Dr. Bala make presentations at many meetings of
health advocates, and I have always learned a great deal.

In a moving tribute by Professor Colvin Gooneratne in the Ceylon
Medical Journal, Dr. Bala was described as "one of the most
knowledgeable, resolute, articulate, versatile, resilient and in many
other ways exceptionally brilliant health activists [the world] has
produced." This assessment is shared by many.

Dr K. Balasubramaniaum with Dr. Krisana Kraisintu, taken at a regional
HAI meeting on pharmaceutical patents and public health in Colombo,
Sri Lanka, in 2003.
Dr. Bala was born September 12, 1926 in Sandilipay, in a Northern
Province of Sri Lanka, where he excelled in his studies, and entered
medical school, and later joined the faculty of the University of
Ceylon, before contracting tuberculous, an illness that almost killed
him, and took several years to treat. Upon regaining his health, he
rejoined the University of Ceylon and later the Universities of
Colombo and Peradeniya. In 1968, he received a PhD from the University
of Manchester in the UK, for "research on the biotransformation of
amylobarbitone in healthy adults and patients with chronic renal

When working on clinical research, Dr. Bala became interested in "the
social economic, political and cultural dimensions of health
delivery," in part due to the influence of his colleague Professor
Senaka Bibile, another leading figure in the essential medicines

In the middle phase of his career, Dr. Bala served a variety of posts
in government, and as a staff member or consultant to a wide range of
multilateral institutions, including the United Nations Conference on
Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the World Health Organization (WHO),
the United Nations Industrials Development Organisation (UNIDO), and
the Caribbean Community Secretariat (CARICOM), working on policies for
the pharmaceutical sector in Ethiopia, Nepal, Cuba, the Philippines,
Tanzania and other developing countries.

In the 1980s, Dr. Bala began a third career as an activist. In 1981,
Dr. Bala was one of the founders of Health Action International (HAI),
an important network of public health doctors, pharmacists, academic
researchers, and health activists, organized to promote the rational
use of medicines, and to ensure social justice in health care. From
1987 to 2002, Dr. Bala lived in Penang, Malaysia, where he represented
Consumers International and Health Action International in a wide
range of research and advocacy efforts. From 2002 until his death in
April of 2011, he lived in Colombo with his wife Kamala
Balasubramaniam. Dr. Bala continued to work for Health Action
International until 2010.

In 2006, Dr. Bala received the Olle Hansson Award, which "recognizes
the work of individuals from developing countries who have contributed
the most to promoting the concepts of essential drugs and their
rational use." Dr. Bala was cited for "his continued efforts in
ensuring health for all."

Many of us who knew Dr. Bala remember him mixing insightful commentary
of the evidence regarding pharmaceutical policy with homey antidotes
about life in rural areas, where people were so poor the killing of a
chicken had a special significance.

I remember Dr. Bala's surveys of drug pricing illustrating the weak
relationship between ability to pay and drug company prices (Pfizer
charging more in Indonesia than in Canada for the same drug), and his
thoughtful comparison of the 1474 Venetian Statute on Industrial
Brevets (the first patent law) to modern legal frameworks for dealing
with government use of patents or abuses of patent rights.

I remember him most for introducing me to his youngest son, Thiru
Balasubramaniam, fresh from his degree in economics from the
University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Bala is survived by his wife Kamala Balasubramaniam, and four son,
including Bala Balakumar, Balasubramaniam Ravichandran and Rajiv
Balasubramaniam living in the United States, and Thiru Balasubramaniam
who manages the Geneva office of Knowledge Ecology International.

James Love.  Knowledge Ecology International
http://www.keionline.org, +1.202.332.2670, US Mobile: +1.202.361.3040,
Geneva Mobile: +41.76.413.6584, efax: +1.888.245.3140.

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