Dr Asoka Dias- is honoured with the Queens Service Medal (QSM) by the Government of New Zealand.
I asked my long-standing friend Dr Asoka Dias what his life mission is. He promptly responded to that by saying it is ‘to help others in their time of need with an emphasis on building a healthier community. He is a strong believer in the medical physician’s axiom of 3 A’s in helping others which is availability, affability, and ability. Though this axion is not well known, it has a deep humanistic meaning, and Asoka is the best example. There had been many instances he had picked up the phone at odd times to talk to a person in desperate need to get advice. As a result, the patient-doctor relationship he has built over the years is remarkable.
Dr Talduwa Gamage Chadrasoma Asoka Dias – officially published in ‘The Queen’s Birthday and Platinum Honours List 2022 by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’ of New Zealand. To us, he is simply Asoka or Dr Asoka Dias. The honours system is a way for New Zealand to thank those who have served and achieved. It is the belief of the government that such recognition is consistent with the egalitarian character of New Zealand society and enlivens and enriches it. He is recognised for the QSM and has brought hope, pride and joy to the Kiwi-Sri Lankan community in Aotearoa and to all Sri Lankans everywhere. He has been bestowed this rare recognition of the Queens Service Medal (QSM) for his years of dedication and contribution toward New Zealand health and supporting the Sri Lankan community here.
Asoka has been in close contact with his alma mater since he left school in the early 1970s. He entered St. Aloysius College, Galle(SAC), Sri Lanka, from grade five and was there till he completed his schooling under the supervision of the Jesuit fathers. The SAC motto is ‘Certa Viriliter, ’ which means fight courageously – never to give up. Asoka always lived up to it, fighting for honesty and integrity in the right way, never getting discouraged by all obstacles that had come his way. He has been an avid collector of rare photos of his school events, school magazines, handwritten messages, signatures or quotes from school celebrities, teachers, and his mates. The most remarkable thing is his collection of alumni historical records or photos, which only a very few would have. Since settling down in New Zealand, he has brought the schoolmates here together informally, as SACOBANZ.
Migration to Aotearoa and restarting as a physician in a new land
After being a successful medical officer in Sri Lanka, Asoka migrated to this country of natural beauty and diversity over 25 years ago. He had worked as a medical officer in many parts of Auckland before starting his medical practice at the Otahuhu Medical Clinic, and he is currently the Medical Director at the same Medical Centre. Employing several doctors and medical staff.
I asked him how he has helped to change the lives of people in his community as a doctor. He promptly said by being available to the patients at the time they need. That has helped the patients to reduce their personal time to get medical services, including the need to take leave from work etc., is avoided. He said that prompt medical care has also prevented the spread of diseases in the community and has also brought down the hospital admissions among his patients. He has arranged for his clinic to be kept open from 8:30 am till 9:00 pm on all weekdays and in the mornings during weekends.
Support for the community
Asoka has immensely contributed to the areas of community health, community welfare and uplifting the standards of the Sri Lankan community. He firmly believes that mental health takes precedence over physical health and had initiated a monthly meditation retreat in Auckland under an erudite Buddhist monk flown all the way from Wellington. Over the years, this program has gathered much popularity and has brought tremendous benefit to the community not only in New Zealand but in other parts of the world,
Born in a small hamlet closer to the Southern capital, Galle in Sri Lankan, called ‘Yakkalamulla’, Asoka valued his cultural heritage and traditions. He encouraged and inspired others to preserve some of those good traditions and values through his own practice or demonstration of those and explaining their core meaning at various discussions and talks. Asoka’s regular engagement with other Sri Lankan community groups has also been an inspiration to them as he willingly shares his knowledge and wisdom with them, enriching not only their health knowledge but also the social norms which are essential for successful integration into the Kiwi culture.
He has initiated many other projects, such as raising funds for setting up the Buddhist temple in Otahuhu, Auckland which has today become the centre of Sri Lankan community activity.
Career experiences and contribution to the medical field
During the period he was working in Sri Lanka, he said how he was rushed to the Eastern province in a cargo aircraft with no seats. Due to a devastating cyclone in 1978, the entire region had flattened, and emergency medical services were summoned. Asoka had opted to go there with the team supporting the rescue efforts. Much extraordinary work Asoka has done to improve the health and wellbeing of people. That includes initiating a mobile eye clinic to give sight to about 350 sight-impaired people. The success rate in these eye surgeries had been 100%, thus changing their lives altogether.
Asoka had also worked as the judicial medical officer when there was an insurgency in the South of Sri Lanka. Though it was highly risky to perform post-mortems on hundreds, it was highly risky and life-threatening at that time. Asoka had never withdrawn or hesitated to fulfil his responsibilities. His actions, as known to all, are from a compassion and consideration standpoint, which is admirable.
Asoka, along with one of his professional colleagues, Dr Indraka Fernando and a few others had initiated constructive discussions with the Ministry of Health – New Zealand, Medical Council and Deans of the two medical schools to set up a bridging program for overseas doctors to be trained and get absorbed to the New Zealand medical service. With constant dialogue and consistent pressure, the efforts had been fruitful benefiting not only those migrant doctors but also the entire New Zealand health system. Asoka’s role in the effort has been incredible.
He feels he has scratched only the ‘tip of the iceberg’. A vast amount of work must be done in improving the wellbeing of the Kiwi-Sri Lankan community by effective integration into the larger Aotearoa community, whilst maintaining our own cultural uniqueness including all art-forms, languages etc. He says that the aim is to create a healthy and positive influence on society.
By Nalin Wijetilleke – Auckland