Dentistry across continents: Rejuvenating an international partnership

Raj AriyaratnamWith numerous partnerships across the world, the University prides itself on its global reach. Through collaboration, we exchange ideas and expertise for the benefit of wider society.

Raj Ariyaratnam, Professor of Dental Education and Global Oral Health, and Academic Clinical Lead for Oral Medicine, is actively ensuring we maintain and expand our international partnerships through his work overseas.

Raj, a native of Sri Lanka, arrived in Manchester as a visiting lecturer in the 1980’s, not long after civil war broke out in his home country. Since then, Raj has had huge impact here in Manchester and beyond and is internationally recognised for his clinical experience and innovative approach to teaching and learning. He is exceptionally committed to Service Learning – that is combining learning goals and community service in ways that can enhance both student growth and the common good.

The Sri Lankan Civil War (1983 – 2009), a conflict which claimed the lives of approximately 100,000 people, was mainly fought in the North and East of the island nation. This limited the influx of medical knowledge to the region for almost 30 years. Since then, the healthcare practitioners of affected areas have been striving to update their practice to provide modern treatments for the local population.

In 2011, Raj visited Sri Lanka to set up the continuous professional development (CPD) team, providing lectures to help improve healthcare knowledge and practice.

Raj continues to visit Sri Lanka every year, although, due to the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the overseas programmes had to be temporarily halted. However, supported by the University and the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT), Raj was able to fly to Sri Lanka in February 2023, rejuvenating the capacity building and skill sharing programmes in the country.

In the picturesque hillside city of Kandy, Raj visited his former dental school at the University of Peradinya, the leading University in Sri Lanka and the only one equipped with a fully functional dental school. 

During his visit, Raj was able to update staff and students on teaching, learning and global dental curriculum development. He also discussed the possibility of student exchange between Sri Lanka and Manchester and was invited to act as an international advisor on current and future CPD projects, which Peradinya’s students are hoping to establish for Sri Lankan primary care practitioners.

The second part of Raj’s trip was spent in Jaffna, the capital of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, and a post-conflict zone which faced some of the heaviest fighting during the civil war. Since the end of the civil war, Raj has helped local dentists to continue to develop a local CPD programme and boost intellectual and professional confidence.

In Jaffna, Raj visited his old school of St John’s College, where he was able to reinvigorate a school community engagement project which he started in 2018. While here, Raj reconnected with some of his teachers for the first time in 50 years.

Additionally, the local Manipay Hospital runs the Nursing Care Assistant Programme, the first course of its kind in Northern Sri Lanka. The University and Manchester Foundation Trust have had large input into curriculum planning and course delivery and Raj was able to discuss the strategic plan for similar courses in the future.

Raj said: “Overall, it was a very satisfying trip to Sri Lanka. The ongoing projects are back on track. I was able to put in the groundwork for new projects such as inter-university MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) and students exchange projects.”

The trip was highly successful and is a great example of how work at the University is advancing healthcare practice internationally as part of our social responsibility goal.