Australia Awards alumna Dr Anuji Gamage is making a remarkable impact in Sri Lanka’s public health sphere, particularly in her work relating to Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and through her involvement with healthcare financing and primary healthcare reform.
According to the World Health Organization, NCDs are estimated to account for 75% of deaths in Sri Lanka. Due to the long duration and slow progression of NCDs, patients could be undetected or may get long term complications. This is why Dr Gamage, as a public health professional, is on a mission to improve preventive medicine and public health research (including health economics) in Sri Lanka.
Recently she has been extensively involved in the implementation of the primary healthcare reform policy. This policy is facilitating the achievement of Universal Health Coverage in Sri Lanka and improvement in efficiency of the healthcare system, which is a necessity for Sri Lanka.
Dr Gamage earned her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at the University of Kelaniya in 2004. It was at this point that she realised that the subject of health economics is a lagging area of study in Sri Lanka. Following her Bachelors degrees, she undertook a Master of Science in Community Medicine at the Postgraduate Institute of Medicine in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Her thesis for Medical Doctorate in Community Medicine focused on the prevalence and correlates of hypertension and its economic impact among government administrative officers.
In 2015, Dr Gamage received an Australia Awards Scholarship to fulfill her aspiration to pursue the intriguing subject of Health Economics. While on her journey in Australia, she not only accomplished her Master in Health Economics and Policy but coupled it with a Graduate Certificate as well.
Dr Gamage has gone on to publish numerous research papers in international journals such as the Asia-Pacific Journal of Public Health and the South-East Asia Journal of Public Health, BMC Public Health etc., winning a merit award for Scientific Publications in 2015 awarded by the National Research Council in Sri Lanka.
She is an active member of many national and international associations, including the Australasian Epidemiological Association, International Society of Hypertension, International Epidemiological Association, College of Community Physicians (Secretary) and the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (Rapporteur). She also volunteers in outreach programs such as health camps in remote parts of the country and health education programs to enhance the health status of the population. This includes organising health camps and health education programs in Sri Lanka’s Western, North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces.
‘I will continue to link Australia and Sri Lanka so that it will benefit and improve the health status of fellow Sri Lankans and certainly support the overall development of the island’, she says.
Given that health economics is a seldom-discussed topic in Sri Lanka, especially as a decision-making tool, Dr Gamage emphasises the need for a Health Economics Unit for the Ministry of Health and is currently working on establishing such a unit at the Ministry. She also contributed to developing the curriculum for a Master of Health Economics, which is to launch in the near future at the University of Kelaniya.
Reminiscing about her short time in Australia, Dr Gamage recalls her fondest memories involving travelling around the country and the warm sense of community she felt. She continues to be in touch with the friends she made on both personal and professional levels. In her own words, the experience was ‘invaluable’, and the skills she gained in Australia have contributed to implementing successful programs in Sri Lanka as a public health specialist.
‘I am confident,’ she says, ‘that what I have learnt in Australia will be put to good use for a long time to come in my Sri Lanka.’
Australia Awards are prestigious international Scholarships, Fellowships and Short Courses funded by the Australian Government. Australia Awards Scholarships aim to contribute to the long-term development needs of Australia’s partner countries in line with bilateral and regional agreements.