Dr Thanuja Ranatunga (MBBS GradEntry ’99) has received the Australian Trade Commission’s (Austrade) Sri Lanka Australian Alumni Excellence Award 2013 for Community Services. The Award was presented in Colombo on Saturday 23 February.
In December 2004, she was one of five of Australian doctors, who volunteered to fly to Sri Lanka two days after the tsunami. After arriving in Colombo, the doctors went to different parts of the country and Dr Ranatunga went to the southern coastal area of the country and worked in refugee camps all the way along the western to southern coastal line.
After the other doctors returned to Australia, she remained to continue providing medical assistance and returned to Australia in February 2005. After the tsunami there were vast numbers of people with a range of injuries, illnesses and disease complications meaning that the doctors (mainly GPs) had to perform in roles other than of doctor including physiotherapy, counselling, speech pathology and occupational therapy.
Subsequently, the doctors and others formed an organisation called the Australia Sri Lanka Medical Aid Team (AuSLMAT) which to date has provided more than $8M worth of equipment, medication and supplies to underprivileged people in Sri Lanka. It has strong support from the Australian Sri Lankan community who assist in overcoming bureaucratic and language barriers.
Dr Ranatunga travels to Sri Lanka once or twice a year working in some of the remotest regions. She is the main co-ordinator of local health camps using her local expertise to liaise with government and authorities to get the camps located where the need is greatest.
Through her personal network, Dr Ranatunga has organised several individual scholarships for deserving students from regional areas, and who have achieved high academic standards despite significant socio-economic struggle. Similarly, she has helped some schools in regional areas obtain educational equipment e.g. computers through her personal contacts in Australia.
Dr Ranatunga is a General Practitioner in Melbourne at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service.