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Alumna contributing to COVID-19 recovery efforts through research

Posted: 17 August 2021

Sri Lanka, Alumni, Impact,

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia Awards alumna Dr Anuji Gamage has been extensively involved in promoting effective healthcare practices and applying measures to prevent the spread of the virus in Sri Lanka.

Anuji completed a Master of Health Economics and Policy at the University of Adelaide in 2015 with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship. Little could she have foreseen that just a few years later, she would be applying her learnings in her own workplace, the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University. When two of her fellow employees contracted the coronavirus, she was assigned to manage the outbreak at the University using public health approaches. She helped in developing guidelines to limit the virus’s spread and undertook site visits to check that preventive health measures were in place. She also undertook patient contact tracing and worked closely with area preventive medical staff to ensure adherence to safety policies

Looking back, Anuji believes that her Australia Awards experience laid the foundation for her growing expertise in health economics and healthcare financing.

“The knowledge, research, analytical thinking and writing skills that I gained from my Australian education, has been instrumental in adding the much-needed healthcare financing and health economics perspective to the agenda,” she says.

“I have been able to facilitate a important discussion and debate in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.”

She sees an important role for such skills in healthcare in her home country. “In Sri Lanka, a gap exists in economic evaluations, cost-of-illness studies, adequate assessment of health technologies, and monitoring healthcare financing trends and predictions, which is a significant challenge,” Anuji says. “Informed science is essential to healthcare policy decision-making. Evidence generates information to act upon and theories to contemplate, and thereby contributes to developing knowledge vital in healthcare policy and decision-making.”

With this in mind, Anuji has been actively publishing research papers to share her knowledge and findings. A significant proportion of these papers, including ‘Public health interventions and economic implications due to COVID-19′, ‘Hospital-based pandemic preparedness and response: institutional outbreak management and strategies adhered to prevent a surge’, ‘Testing of SARS-CoV-2 in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic’ and ‘Preparing for the unexpected; A reflection on the Hospital Preparedness for COVID-19′, look at various aspects of pandemics and specifically COVID-19.

Throughout 2020, Anuji supported the COVID-19 response and recovery efforts through various initiatives. In December last year, she was invited to speak at the virtual discussions on ‘Treatment of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka: Health service delivery cost’ and ‘Knowledge on COVID-19 among health care workers in selected hospitals in Sri Lanka’, organised by the Asia-Pacific Academic Consortium for Public Health.

She also presented her paper on the treatment cost of COVID-19 patients in Sri Lanka at the National Science Foundation conference held in January 2021. The full paper was subsequently published in the Journal of the National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka.

In her capacity as a Public Health Specialist, Economist and a researcher, Anuji has also analysed the cost-effectiveness of conducting face-to-face meetings versus virtual meetings, to guide policymakers. She has also co-investigated research on knowledge, attitudes and practices among healthcare workers as well as supporting ongoing studies on the cost-of-illness of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on patients spending and seeking healthcare.

In July 2021, Anuji’s paper on ‘Evidence-based and epidemiological interpretation of the diagnosis of SARS-COV-2’ was accepted for conference presentation by the Sri Lanka Medical Association and for the 26th Annual Academic Session of the College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka.

As the President of the Sri Lanka Association of Australia Awards Alumni (SLAAAA), in 2020, Anuji organised a health camp and a workshop on entrepreneurship at Jayanthi Viharaya for International Women’s Day to empower rural women of Ambalangoda. During the lock down in Sri Lanka, she also organised a series of virtual webinars promoting mindfulness. The first webinar—‘Living in the present: Living fully’—was conducted via Zoom in April 2020. This was followed by a second webinar was entitled ‘Be the architect of your life’ in August 2020. These valuable and timely webinars were well received by SLAAAA members and the general public.

Anuji along with other SLAAAA committee members during the health camp at Jayanthi Viharaya in 2020.

Anuji also participated in the Learning Network for Countries in Transition webinar on ‘Designing Behavioural Strategies for Immunization in a COVID-19 Context’. The webinar, organised by the Curatio International Foundation, addressed topics such as vaccine hesitancy during COVID-19 and featured speakers from Cote D’Ivoire, India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

Speaking about her work in short-term consultancies, Anuji says, “These consultancies help assess healthcare program implementationin particular the health financial aspect and  heavy demands resulting from the emerging [noncommunicable diseases] agenda, which is causing disparities in health financing and service provision. This is essential, especially in the changing COVID-19 landscape, where we need to strike a healthy balance between lives and livelihood.”

Anuji has also contributed to the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute’s blog on international relations, writing two policy briefs: ‘Is Sri Lanka Prepared to Tackle the Coronavirus?’ and ‘Scaling up Social Accountability: Global and Local Response to COVID-19′. She additionally supported the development of scouting guidelines for activities to be carried out during the pandemic and was a contributor to the College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka’s position paper on the debate about compulsory cremation of COVID-19 victims.

Speaking recently at the Sri Lanka Medical Association webinar ‘Quarantine Policy in Sri Lanka: Appraisal following Vaccination’, Anuji continues to share her expertise. At a webinar organised by the Staff Development Centre at the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University, she also spoke about how to prevent the third wave of COVID-19.

“What works in one country cannot be directly applied to another. Research is an integral component in science and more so in health as it rapidly evolves.,” Anuji says. “ Evidence-based decision-making is essential and health providers can capitalise on this in managing patients or serving the community.” She adds, “Through research, I hope that all scientists across boundaries generate science-informed decisions.” I believe that it’s our response to any crisis that defines who we are and how we survive.”