2012 -1stScientific Congress and Reunion

The 9th of September 2012 was a “D-day” for CoMSAA, the day of the first ever Scientific Congress and Reunion for its members. The morning was wet with gusty winds and rain at the Bentota Beach Hotel, Bentota. Months of planning, weekly and even more frequent meetings of the Steering Committee, two weekend visits earlier by the President, Dr DeepaWimalasena, the Event Coordinator and two Research Assistants Drs HasithaGunasekera and ShalikaNagasinghe – “would they all be washed away?” was the question in our minds.

Four luxury buses were scheduled to leave the Colombo Medical faculty premises at 7.30 in the morning. Those who opted to come in them apparently had a jolly good time singing, joking and enjoying titbits all the way. They took the Express Highway and arrived on time but one took the traditional old road and arrived an hour later. Rumour has it that the reason for this was that the occupants would have had to fork out the highway fee of Rs. 550.00 divided by 30!! However on arrival there were refreshments: cutlets, rolls and a piece of cake in addition to a syrupy sweet drink. Calories, diabetes and cholesterol be damned, we tucked into them.

It was 8.30 am and the rain became a drizzle. A welcome party stood at the entrance to welcome the Chief Guest Prof Mahroof Ismail, former Dean and the Guest of Honour Dr. C.Sivathasan, Heart Transplant Surgeon, Singapore. 9.00 am and yet no sign of them, more anxiety! And then a message. They had both arrived through the “back door” to the conference hall! A dash across slippery floors to greet the distinguished visitors. At about the same time the rain ceased and the sun shone brightly over Bentota, and it did not change for the rest of the day.

The proceedings commenced with a procession of the Executive Committee, appropriately gowned, and then the National Anthem. The day’s proceedings were ably conducted by the entertaining and incomparable compere Dr. B.J.C.Perera, who wore several hats that day. More of that later!!!

Welcoming the participants the Founder President briefly recalled the history of the Association since its first meeting on 30th June 2011 and gave the audience a brief nibble at the delights to follow. Prof. Maharoof Ismail recounted some anecdotes from his student days and went on to elaborate on the objectives of the Association which included dissemination of current medical knowledge amongst its members promoting fellowship and helping the Colombo Medical Faculty and its students.

Responding to this Professor Sheriffdeen stated that already a very needy student had been identified for assistance, funds have also been earmarked for helping with facilities in the Students’ Common Room and new books to be donated to the Library have been identified.

Dr. C Sivathasan, Cardiac and Heart Transplant surgeon from Singapore was next introduced and felicitated for his achievements in Medicine, Teaching and training, Research. He is also well known for helping Sri Lankan patients going to Singapore for treatment, whatever their ailment. In recognition of all these achievements and qualities, he was also honoured with the very first “Alumnus of the Year” award. Dr. Sivathasan recalled fondly his teachers who guided him on this great journey and wanted the next get together to be held in the Physiology or Anatomy lecture halls where he could relive his days of “foot-stamping” during lectures, when the lecturer cracked a joke!

This was followed by the launch of the Book “The Colombo Medical Faculty: Evolution, Turbulence and Achievements”, written by Prof. A.H.Sheriffdeen and Dr. ShalikaNagasinghe. Copies were presented to the members of the head table, Prof. Ismail, Dr. Sivathasan, Prof. AthulaKaluarachchi and Dr. SarojaSiriwardena the Joint Secretaries and to Dr. J.B.Pieris, the President-Elect. This book was sold at an introductory price of Rs.1000.00 on that day. It is now available at the CoMSAA office at the Department of Anatomy at RS. 1500.00 per copy.

The Scientific Congress followed next, the first part being an update of some of the major achievements of the Departments of the Faculty.

  • Prof HarshaSeneviratne spoke of the advances in Reproductive health and of the IVF programme run by him and members of his Department.
  • Prof. MandikaWijeyaratne gave an account of the first Liver transplantation operation carried out by him and his team at the National Hospital of Sri Lanka. He also traced the history of transplantation in the country since the first Kidney Transplantation operation was carried out with Professors Sheriffdeen and Geri Jayasekara as the surgeons and Prof Rezvi Sheriff as Nephrologist and overall coordinator – all from the staff of the Colombo Medical Faculty.
  • A very impressive presentation titled “The trail blazer in Human Genetics” was next made by Prof Vajira Dissanayake. Clinical genetics, Genetic diagnostics, Bioinformatics and Regenerative Medicine is a sample of the range covered by this innovative Department.
  • Professor Nadeera Karunaweera spoke of their discovery of cutaneous Leishmaniasis as a new entity in Sri Lanka and since then 2430 cases have been identified.
  • Drug resistance to TB was 17.9% in a 2005-2007 survey said Prof. Jennifer Perera. Her team had identified two novel point mutations of rpoB gene at a significant frequency.
  • Prof PujithaWickremasinghe spoke of his research showing a significant number of Sri Lankan children had NCD related metabolic problems and stressed that behaviour modification needs to be done at school level to increase awareness of obesity related metabolic diseases and the consequences of childhood trauma.
  • Prof Ravindra Fernando spoke of the vast improvement in the management of poisoning as a result of establishing the National Poisons Information Centre under his Department.

The second part of the Scientific Congress was the seminar on “Rational Use of Antibiotics.”

  • Wearing his second hat for the day, the popular Consultant Paediatrician Dr. B.J.C.Perera spoke of rational and irrational use of antibiotics. He outlined strategies to promote rational use of antibiotics, touching on recent developments while hinting that there may be special reasons for widespread use of antibiotics in Sri Lanka and that Western standards may not be truly applicable here.
  • Prof PandukaKarunanayake spoke of the factors that are important in the selection of an antibiotic and on the principles of de-escalation therapy.
  • “Rational use of antibiotics is crucial to limit emergence of resistant organisms, reduce healthcare associated infections and to reduce costs” said Prof DeepakaWeerasekera. He spoke of management of diagnosed infections, of antibiotic prophylaxis, and infections in the elderly and in immune compromised patients.
  • “The clinician has to be always aware of the fact that drugs can harm the embryo” cautioned Dr. HarshaAtapattu speaking on rational use of antibiotics in Obstetrics but, he said that the clinician has more freedom in Gynaecology provided a pregnancy is excluded. A sound knowledge on treatment of candidiasis and sexually transmitted infections is also essential he said in conclusion.
  • And then it was the incomparable and inimitable octogenarian, Dr. Dennis Aloysius who gave an entertaining and stimulating account of rational antibiotic prescribing in general Practice. Those who are curious should ask any one present at this meeting regarding the jokes he made, as they are unprintable here! However his message “over 90% encounters in general practice does not require antibiotics for management” is worth recording.
  • Dr. EnokaPerera said that antibiotics are prescribed by doctors at every level of practice without special training and that prescribing antibiotics in the absence of evidence of bacterial infection, in viral and self-limiting infections is only too common. She gave other examples of irrational use of antibiotics such as poor choice of routes of administration, poly -pharmacy, duration of administration for far too long a period, neglect of laboratory diagnosis, frequent changes or addition in the face of poor response and use of antibiotics of sub-standard quality. She also emphasized the stepmotherly treatment given to infection control while relying on expensive antibiotics to do this job.

And then the Scientific Congress was over. Those who doubted its impact and thought that it would bore the audience had second thoughts and even regretted that it was over too soon!

The long awaited reunion was now on us. No one will grudge the repast that was laid out to them for just Rs 2000.00 Three varieties of rice, fish, prawns, beef, chicken and lamb and lots of salads and vegetables were on the vast luncheon fare. To round off the repast were ten varieties of desserts. The reader can probably guess as to which dishes were left over at the end of the day. There was liquid refreshment of the strong variety to get them into the mood for the other items to follow.

A semi-professionalband of doctors and medical students kept us merry and entertained thereafter. We danced, we sang and we held musically orientated competitions. For me the “piece de resistance” of the evening was the rendition of the song titled “Meeambavanaye, meeyekmarilla…….” ( Dead rat in the sweet mango forest) by the entertainer par excellence, wearing yet another hat, Dr. B.J.C.Perera. We did not want it to end!!

The hotel animator had planned out games where there was participation of males, females, young and old. A lot of laughter, a lot of surprises at the winning prizes and a lot of sharing of the prizes took place. It was camaraderie at its best.

Evening tea followed and then there was a surprise. The hotel had produced a complimentary birthday cake for the first year of CoMSAA! The President cut it, to the strains of “Happy birthday to you, Happy Birthday dear CoMSAA” and the cake was enjoyed by all. A special tribute to the Founder President was paid by BJC and the band in singing the all-time favourite “To all the girls he has loved before…..”.

All too soon it was farewell. Wishes and kisses and promises not to miss next year’s reunion. There was a chorus in unison at the end that it was “Oh, what a day”!