Mapping Diseases in Sri Lanka_part I

January 30, 2011
Winston Gong
Galle town

By Wenfeng Gong (Winston)

Post 1: First impression in Sri Lanka

On the fifth day of 2011, I arrived at Galle of Sri Lanka, the pearl of the Indian Ocean.  Traveling in one day from freezing Shanghai to the tropical island with 80F appeared to be a challenge for my sweat gland.  However, the most impressive experience in the first night couldn’t be something else but the continual weird sound “pu-chi-pu-chi” from the roof of my hotel room.   If you have been in rural Sri Lanka, you would not be as surprised as I was in the next morning, afterI confirmed that the sound was from a cute ORANG living in my roof. I am so lucky to be placed in a guest house near the hospital I work—the Leijay Resort.   

For people grow up in big cities, it is just a paradise, with local-style buildings, a garden full of tropical plants, friendly Swiss host and her supportive staff.  Swimming in the garden, observing special topical birds, and watching the monkeys jumping in the coconut trees have been my favorite entertainment after work.   I also enjoy meeting interesting guests in the house: a professor from Germany who hates their social insurance system but was failed to convince me his idea; an old Malaysian couple who kindly gave me a bag of Chinese dessert; a British guy who appreciated the traditional Chinese medicine I gave for his shoulder pain… I was convinced about how severe the mosquito problem is through the situation in my room: there were constantly more than 10 mosquitos in my room until one day I found two little shy geckos standing on my windows; and after several days efforts, the geckos draw the number of mosquitos under five.  

[Photo: Gems shop] Unfortunately, I heard that most of the local families do not allow geckos in their home because they believe geckos bring unfortunates. What’s more interesting is observing the life and culture of the local people.  Due to the decades of civil war and the 2004 tsunami, the social structure in Sri Lanka is largely based around family unit.  Social events are rarely seen except for religious and political reasons.  Probably because of the general belief of Buddhism, local people are warm, friendly, and not aggressive, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t stare at me in bus since I am a foreigner.  Also, it is interesting to see, as a Chinese, some facets of the local culture which are being lost in my country, for example the tight bind within family. 

However, on the negative side, I have heard some bad stories about the disrespect to feminine rights in marriage and the abandon of mentally ill women in Sri Lanka. Overall, after three weeks in this country, I am further convinced that I love the wide, beautiful, friendly, traditional, calm, and secret Sri Lanka. [Photo: Fish Market]

Post 2: GIS-based Epi research on febrile illnesses in Sri Lanka [Photo: Leijay Resort] During the last semester in the MSc-GH program, I am conducting my Master’s thesis study on Geographic Information System (GIS)-based febrile diseases epidemiology in the district of Galle, Sri Lanka. 

This study is proposed following a parent collaborating project between DGHI and the Faculty of Medicine in University of Ruhuna, in which Dr. Woods and Dr. Ostbye has been involved for a long period.   I was also lucky enough to receive financial support for this study from DGHI, Duke-Ruhuna Link, Sigma-Xi Scientific Society, and the Newaid Foundation.  The study will combine the existing clinical records, the on-site ecological observations, and the GPS coordinates for a medical geographic analysis.  

Through the three-month research, I expect to provide a spatial description of febrile illness in Galle district of Sri Lanka and offer an evaluation of the epidemiological potential by unveiling relationship between febrile pathogens transmission and people’s living ecology.  

Since the understanding of the ecological determinants is important for strengthening the diseases control system, I hope this study, as a pioneer in this field in Sri Lanka, would facilitate future public health programs by improving the understanding of local pathogen distribution and its relationship with ecology.  [Photo: Galle Fort]