Binational Physician

When Anula Jayasuriya '80, M.D. '84, Ph.D. '91, M.B.A. '93, wanted to bring medical manpower and expertise to her native Sri Lanka, she remembered Interplast, the nonprofit a fellow physician had told her about. The organization, which sponsors free reconstructive plastic surgery for children in developing nations, had no program in Sri Lanka, but said that if she was willing to make the necessary contacts, and rally a team of physicians, it would lend her its support.

That was in 1998. Jayasuriya has now made four trips to Sri Lanka with groups of Interplast-affiliated doctors and has organized several others. Though she doesn't perform surgery—her medical specialties are pediatrics and pharmacology—she is present throughout the trips, seeing patients before and after their surgeries and in the operating room itself.

"Since most of the patients are children, my pediatrics training comes in handy," she says. "Of greatest value is my medical training coupled with my contacts and cultural and language familiarity with Sri Lanka. This is important in understanding and meeting the needs of the host country."

Anula Jayasuriya helps unload surgical supplies in Sri Lanka
Courtesy of Interplast

This past August, the venture capitalist—she pursued a business degree after medical school, convinced that it would help connect her with the business aspects of another of her interests, biotechnology—was named to Interplast's board. That means, she says, that she can be much more broadly involved with different countries."

For Jayasuriya, who came to Harvard as a foreign student, "medicine still had for me a very important service aspect. Interplast has been a channel to keep alive this aspect of community and serve the very poor people in Sri Lanka."

Many of that nation's impoverished live in thatched huts and use kerosene lamps for light, making fires—and often debilitating burns—common. The civil war that has ravaged the country for 17 years has brought new sources of injury, such as land mines. Facial, eye, and hand surgeries have formed the bulk of Interplast's work in Sri Lanka. "This is all about reconstructing and restoring functionality," Jayasuriya explains.

Interplast is also committed to training local doctors in state-of-the-art techniques and supplying them with new equipment, so patients can be treated long after the visiting physicians have gone home. In Sri Lanka in particular, training has become a major focus.

To Jayasuriya, this illustrates her favorite business concept: "leverage," which to her means bringing together aspects of science and medicine and accomplishing as much as possible with limited resources. "The beauty of Interplast is that [Sri Lankan] surgeons now have the expertise to do it themselves," she says. "That's the whole point to me, to build an expertise that can be amplified within the country."

~Laura L. Krug  

         

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