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Case Study - Senathirajah Ariyaratnam

Hospital dentist and University of Manchester employee Dr Senathirajah Ariyaratnam (Raj) has worked at the Trust for more than 25 years. He recently shared his experiences of leading an overseas Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programme for dentists in his mother country Sri Lanka. After Raj's wife Maria, a community Dental officer travelled to Jaffna to visit relatives she was concerned about the current state of affairs. Following her visit he contacted the Jaffna Dental Association and discussed possible assistance regarding knowledge transfer/skill update.

Patient in clinicRaj had been furthered inspired to try and help those in his country when visiting after the 2005 tsunami. He saw first hand the devastation and destruction that plagued the people. Raj said: "I knew I had to do something. I had my primary, secondary and undergraduate education there and wanted to give something back." Whilst he was there, he carried out countless tasks including helping children in the orphanages by providing emergency dental care and screening, visiting elderly people's care homes and conducting open specialist clinics for the general public.

Raj attended the Trust's Volunteer Overseas Meeting last year and was delighted when he successfully applied for a Chairman's grant to fund part of his trip. The University of Manchester also gave him study leave. He said: "I had so much support from the Trust Chairman, Peter Mount, Sue Alison, Director of Corporate Services and Dr Pemberton, Clinical Director of Dental Hospital. I am particularly grateful to the Chairman as he has really helped me and is so enthusiastic and passionate about the project. He has a genuine interest in the progress it is making."

GroupHe initially established a strong link with Jaffna by arranging teleconferences with Jaffna dentists to discuss individual patient management and advanced treatment protocols for patients with oral diseases. Text books, journals and other education material were also collected and sent to Jaffna Dental Unit.

Raj said: "There has been a lack of much needed specialist support for a long period of time because of the civil war which led to poor communication and transport links. Because of this isolation the dentists were unable to update their knowledge and skills. Therefore the quality of care for the people was severely compromised."

When he arrived in Jaffna in January, Raj was shocked at the conditions. Facilities that we take for granted did not exist. There was no proper pathology service, no dental laboratory, there was no regular broadband internet connection,  the transport network was limited, the equipment in the clinics was rusty and people would travel for miles for treatment.

Dental clinicHowever, there was hope as Raj explained. "They were very hungry to improve things,  more than 95% of the population is literate and there was a mix of younger and experienced dentists and medics who wanted to work together and with us, to improve the quality of care. "

He believes that this type of volunteering is good for both young and experienced medics. "As a young volunteer, it is a good place to go as security is no longer a problem as the war has finished, there are lot of cases to see and they will have the opportunity to work with limited resources."

Raj and AwardRaj is very proud of what has been achieved in such a short space of time. During his visit three important objectives were achieved/ CPD is very new to Sri Lanka, let alone Jaffna. The process was completed successfully through regular dialogue with hospital, regional and WHO regional directors, Dean of the Medical School and Dental Focus Group in Jaffna. A structure to sustain the CPD programme has been created with the election of an executive committee and a venue has been identified for future activities.

He added: "I also initiated the process by delivering the first CPD lecture and interactive seminar, and also conducted specialist clinics. More than 90% of the regional dentists attended these sessions."

Raj believes that this experience has been a great opportunity as not only is it sustainable with many plans to improve future of dentistry in Sri Lanka, but his work is also playing a part of the education of Manchester University students. He said: "It is immensely rewarding and I came back a different person. It is very exciting."