Monday, 26 February 2018

A chance to improve healthcare for a distant neighbour

(L) A participant leading a presentation; (R) The Sri Lankan Minister of Health opens proceedings
Dr Jayamini Illesinghe and Marina Skiba are just back from Sri Lanka, where they led stage two of our Australia Award funded program to build research capacity in the country. Sri Lanka offers free healthcare to its citizens, but the healthcare system could benefit from a stronger research framework. In particular, rigorous health services research that could help them provide faster, more effective service delivery to those in greatest need.
The two days of training and workshopping led by the duo were a sellout. On day one they delivered our Ethics and Good Research Practice short course, capped at 75 attendees but over 120 tried to gain admission at the door! Attended by ethics administrators from around the country, the learnings and resources provided will be passed on to researchers at their home institutes. Day two was a chance for attendees to provide feedback on the draft national research governance framework that will guide Sri Lanka’s future medical research. 

Quite aside from the huge turnout, in a mark of how much the program means to the country, the proceedings were opened by the Sri Lankan Minister of Health.

The trip follows on from stage one of the project, when fifteen senior representatives from the Sri Lankan medical research community and the World Health Organization visited our School for two weeks last year. This gave them a head start on ethics training and creating the two documents that will ultimately arise from the project. The first document is a National Code of Conduct, which is due for release on World Health Day in April. The second document is the Research Governance Strategy, due for release in June.

The training and workshops are continuing to receive “very good feedback on the short course from participants, even from those who have been in the field of ethics for a long time.” Marina says,

“I still can’t believe that my work is going to directly influence how medical research is performed in an entire country. I have to keep pinching myself when I think about the scale of the impact here.” 

Jay says,

“It’s an honour to give back to the country I grew up in, even in a small way. It is quite a surreal moment when you are standing next to the Minister of Health singing the National anthem. As Maria says, it’s also quite surreal that I was able to influence how medical research is performed in Sri Lanka.”

The Sri Lankan office of the World Health Organization were instrumental in the program’s success, in terms of both practical and financial support.