[Ip-health] Ceylon Medical Journal tribute to Dr. Bala: A man who achieved much amidst many obstacles

Jamie Love james.love at keionline.org
Tue May 3 14:17:43 PDT 2011


A man who achieved much amidst many obstacles


Prof. Kumariah Balasubramaniam, eminent pharmacologist and former
advisor and coordinator, Health Action International Asia-Pacific
(HAIAP) passed away this week. Following are excerpts from a tribute
to him by Prof. Colvin Gooneratne published earlier in the Ceylon
Medical Journal.

Had fate been less kind to young Kumariah when he contracted drug
resistant pulmonary tuberculosis with axillary and cervical adenitis
soon after completing his 2nd MB in March 1947, and allowed the
tubercle bacillus to notch up yet another infamous victory, the world
would have lost an individual who became, in the fullness of time, one
of the most knowledgeable, resolute, articulate, versatile, resilient
and in many other ways exceptionally brilliant health activists it has
produced. The attack of tuberculosis halted the steady flow of
academic successes he had achieved up to that time.

Born in September 1926 in Sandilipay, a serene pastoral village in the
Jaffna peninsula, he had his first 10 years of schooling in the
village school. He then joined Jaffna Central College, from where he
passed in 1942 both the Senior School Certificate and the London
Matriculation, placed in the First Division, a grand achievement in
that era.

He entered the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Ceylon in
1945. and had passed the 2nd MB in 1947 when he contracted
tuberculosis, Left with no other alternative his parents took him back
to his village for Ayurvedic treatment of allopathic drug resistant
tuberculosis, which took four years to complete, with annual checkups
at Chest Hospital, Welisara.

At last in 1952 he was declared free of the dreaded disease, and
allowed to rejoin the medical school. He went on to obtain second
classes in the 3rd MB (with a distinction in Pharmacology), and in the
Final MBBS, after being virtually full-time bedridden for nearly 6

Dr Kumariah Balasubramaniam (Bala to his friends and everyone who
knows him) joined the Department of Pharmacology in the University of
Colombo headed by Professor Senaka Bibile - whom Bala described as his
role model as a Demonstrator in 1959, and in 1964 after a short stint
in the Department of Health Services, as a lecturer in the Department
of Pharmacology at the University of Peradeniya, again under the
tutelage of Professor Bibile. He proceeded to the University of
Manchester in the UK in 1967, from where he obtained the Diploma in
Clinical Pharmacology in 1968, and the PhD in 1970 for his research on
the biotransformation of amylobarbitone in healthy adults and patients
with chronic renal insufficiency.

When he returned to Peradeniya in 1970), he was the only permanent
academic staff member in his Department, Professor Bibile having been
made the first Chairman of the newly established State Pharmaceuticals
Corporation and later a Consultant to UNCTAD, and Dr. (Pep) Jayasena,
the only other lecturer in the Department, taking up duties as
Registrar of the University of Sri Lanka.

During this period Bala accomplished what I regard as his second
miracle, the first of course being his recovery from drug resistant
tuberculosis by a combination of will power and Ayurvedic medication.
The second miracle comprised doing all the lectures, tutorials and
examinations in Pharmacology by himself in English, Sinhala and Tamil,
in addition to doing Physiology lectures in Tamil at the request of
Professor Valentine Basnayake, and conducting Professor T. Varagunam's
hypertension clinic at the General Hospital, Mahanuwara, at his

By this time, Senaka Bibile had introduced Bala to the social,
economic, cultural and political dimensions of pharmaceuticals and
health care delivery, on the way to formulating a pharmaceuticals
policy for Ceylon, key elements of which have found worldwide acclaim
and application. And so, Bala knew by then what he must do.

To no one's surprise he left the University of Peradeniya in 1978 to
join the Technology Division of UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on
Trade and Development) in Geneva to participate in an inter-agency
Task Force comprising UNCTAD, WHO and UNIDO (United Nations Industrial
Development Organisation) to examine and develop the pharmaceutical
sector in developing countries.

The Task Force visited 15 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America
and submitted a comprehensive report. Bala continued to work in UNCTAD
implementing some of the recommendations, and at the request of the
relevant governments he worked with Health Ministry officials to
develop policy documents to strengthen the pharmaceutical sectors in
Ethiopia, Nepal, Cuba, Philippines, and the Republic of Tanzania.

In 1981 Bala participated, at the invitation of the United Nations
Non-Governmental Liaison Service, in an international seminar on
pharmaceuticals held in Geneva, Health Action International (HAI) was
born at that meeting.

HAI soon became a global coalition of consumer groups, development and
health related organisations, medicinal drug action groups, academic
institutions and health activists dedicated to promoting rational use
of medicinal drugs and ensuring social justice and equity in health
care, Bala was a founder member of HAI, and continued to be one of its

In 1987 Bala moved to Penang in Malaysia to accept the post of Advisor
and Co-ordinator of HAI Asia-Pacific, and from Penang to Colombo in
2002 when it was relocated here. Bala edited the HAI News from 1987

He presented papers, by invitation, at international conferences in
nearly all capital cities in Europe, and SAARC and ASEAN countries. He
received the prestigious Commonwealth Vice-Chancellors' Fellowship
Award for 1994-95 and the equally esteemed Olle Hanson Award for 2006.

Bala had to overcome numerous obstacles along the way - political,
fiscal, bureaucratic and personal and he succeeded nearly always
against tremendous odds. I am impelled to cite a few of Bala's seminal
writings for the benefit of readers who may not be familiar with their
range and import: (i) National Health Insurance and Financing the
international Scene and Foreign Models (1996. Kuala Lumpur) (ii)Models
of Health Care Financing (2000, Kuala Lumpur; (iii) Sri Lankan Peoples
Health charter (iv) Charter of Patients' Rights and Responsibilities

Colombo) (v) Patent Policies and Pharmaceutical Prices (2004, Colombo
(vi) Access to Medicine and Public Policy Safeguards under TRIPS
(2002, Bangladesh) (vii) Heads - Transnational Companies Win, Tails
The South Loses.

(1996 Builefeld Germany) (viii) International Drug Policies: consumer
Concerns (1997, Oslo) (ix) Right to Health and Relation to
Globalization (2004, Chennai) (x) Traditional Medicines (2004). (xi)
Herbal Medicines. Consumer Protection Concerns (1997 Honolulu,

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