National Stroke Association of Sri Lanka – A Brief History
Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability in Sri Lanka, but stroke care has not received the attention it deserves. An audit of acute stroke care at the Institute of Neurology, National Hospital of Sri Lanka, Colombo (NHSL) conducted in 1997 revealed the poor quality of stroke care at state-sector hospitals in the country. This was an eye-opener that led to far-reaching changes, especially the establishment of the first stroke unit in the country at the NHSL in 1998. Weekly multi-disciplinary team meetings were a part of the stroke unit work, and the need for improving stroke care across the country was a regular topic for discussion among the medical professionals managing the stroke unit after the team meetings. In addition to developing hospital-based care, the need for an organization to create island-wide awareness and to engage the public in stroke prevention became a key point for action during these discussions. The need for the involvement of non-medical professionals in such an organization to ensure community participation, to develop educational campaigns, and to raise and manage funds was emphasised.
A group of professionals from the NHSL stroke unit and the corporate sector got together in late 2000 to plan the establishment of such an organization. This group comprised Dr Jagath Wijesekera (Consultant Neurologist, NHSL and head of the Stroke Unit), Dr Lalith Wijayaratne (Consultant Rheumatologist, NHSL), Dr Udaya Ranawaka (Resident Neurologist, NHSL) and Mr Rienzie Wijetilleke (Chairman, Hatton National Bank). Mr Rienzie Wijetilleke was tasked with the responsibility of bringing in leading members from the corporate sector to assist in this endeavour. After several more rounds of discussion, the National Stroke Association of Sri Lanka was formed, and its first meeting was held on 14th January 2001 at the auditorium of the Sri Lanka Medical Association.
The main aims of the Association were Improving the quality of stroke care and minimising the burden of stroke in the country. The Association was to lobby and support the government in developing a comprehensive stroke service in the community, and a plan for this was presented by the fledgling Association to the Ministry of Health. The proposed comprehensive stroke service would revolve around a stroke unit that would deliver optimal acute care, and serve as a hospital based focal point of service and expertise. Stroke units were to be established, first for each province and then for each district, with a stroke service developed to serve the entire province/ district. Establishing community-based rehabilitation services, formation of self-help groups and community participation in educational and preventive programmes were key components in this plan. The Association was also meant to be a meeting point for stroke victims, their families and caregivers, and health care professionals.
The Association was Registered as a Voluntary Social Service Organisation/NGO at the National Secretariat for NGOs, Ministry of Social Services in December 2001, and was registered as an Approved charity in August 2002 (Gazette Notification of 02.08.2002).