Dr K.T. Iraivan – CEO of Melsta Health (Pvt) Ltd

When the U.N Secretary General at the time, Kofi Annan visited Sri Lanka, a certain young doctor was assigned as his personal physician for the duration of the visit. Today, as the CEO of Melsta Health (Pvt) Ltd, Dr. K. Thiyagarajah Iraivan is one of the few physicians in Sri Lanka with experience in medical administration and P&L management at a healthcare organization. He serves as one of the pillars of the newly renovated Joseph Fraser Memorial Hospital, as well as on the board of Hospital Management of Melsta Health (Pvt) Ltd, which manages the hospitals and Melsta Healthcare Colombo (Pvt) Ltd. 

Hailing from Nagadeepa, Dr. Iraivan, an old boy of St. John’s College – Jaffna, credits his parents with setting him on the path to becoming a physician. However, in the case of healthcare administration, he describes it as a risk that paid off. “I saw an opportunity to expand my career into the administrative sector of the Healthcare industry and I took it, as I believed there was good potential in managing a hospital and also because I felt that there was a lack in the number of administrators who were capable of bringing profitability to the business while serving the patient community at the same time. This was the main inspiration behind my decision to become a medical administrator.”

Describing his first experience of working in a hospital, Dr. Iraivan explained,

“I began my career as a medical officer at the Apollo Hospital in 2003. It was a new experience for me, having returned from India the previous year, where I had been studying Nephrology and Renal Transplant Surgery. At Apollo I was able to comprehend the importance and functions of private sector healthcare. Apollo brought healthcare in Sri Lanka to a new level and I was fortunate to be a part of the initial team that was responsible for it.”

Moving on to his initial induction into the administration sector, the doctor said, “When in 2006, Apollo Hospital was taken over by the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation, under the leadership of Harry Jayawardena, I received the opportunity to take up administration. This was a significant change, as I had dedicated myself to emergency medical care, saving lives and serving the needs of my patients. In 2006, I became Head of Operations at Apollo Hospital, which later became known as Lanka Hospitals. I became well-versed in the vital role of such things as finance and service delivery. Being a doctor, I was able to understand both sides of the coin – medicine and administration, which brought in the turning point of my career.”

Voicing his opinion on the most common challenge faced by physicians, Dr. Iraivan commented,

“Physicians face many challenges, but the greatest and most common is managing the satisfaction and public relation expectations of the patients. When it comes to medical care, everybody pretty much delivers the same thing, but when it comes to the service aspect, it’s a different story. Therefore, I personally feel that the greatest common challenge lies in how a physician manages patient relations and expectations.”

According to the World Population Review, as of 2020, the infant mortality rate and birth rate in Sri Lanka are 8.4 and 15.2 respectively. Speaking of the contributory factors to these estimates, the doctor said, “I am proud to say that the Sri Lankan healthcare system is one of the best in this part of the world, and can be compared with those of many developing and developed countries. I feel that we were able to achieve these low rates due to the high standard of our healthcare delivery system and medical facilities. The Ministry of Health has done a lot of work in order to uplift the medical facilities, especially in the rural areas of the country. All possible medical care is provided for patients in need, expectant mothers and children, which is more than what can be said of the healthcare systems of other countries. Sri Lanka is really marching forward in terms of healthcare and medical facilities.” 

On the topic of the most common health complaint faced by women, Dr. Iraivan stated that,

“There are a few things that come to mind, but the main complaints are fertility related. Many of the younger generation suffer from either endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), while older women face uterine or menopausal issues. I think the primary among these are polycystic ovarian syndrome and other such fertility related problems.”

 Moving on to the steps he would prescribe to treat, and hopefully avoid such complaints, the doctor said,

“I believe that this area requires a deeper level of focus from healthcare officials. I would also suggest educating the public, especially women, on fertility, reproduction and related topics, so that they are able to understand what is going on in their own bodies and get proper medical care whenever necessary. I have seen many women who waste a lot of time and money looking for cures when they don’t even know what the main problem is. Infertility is a growing issue in the country, due to the prevailing lifestyles and the increasing number of late-in-life marriages. It is essential to create awareness and provide good facilities for the treatment of fertility related issues as well as to avoid such problems via early detection.”

Addressing the primary reason behind the rise in non-communicable diseases in Sri Lanka, the doctor, noted that, “The main reason is the lifestyle people lead today. Gone are the days when people walked long distances, utilized public transport and maintained a healthy diet. Many people lead very sedentary lives and consume a lot of processed, fried and junk food. This is mainly due to the time factor and the changing work patterns, as people no longer have the time to exercise or maintain a healthy diet. Also, alcohol consumption and smoking have become fashionable habits among the younger generations. Thus, aside from genetic factors, these aspects play a leading role in the rise of non-communicable diseases in Sri Lanka.”

“I strongly believe that Sri Lanka has the facilities, resources and knowledge needed to handle any epidemic. The fact that we’re an island nation with a good literacy rate is also a contributory factor. However, I believe that if we educate our people properly on the precautionary steps to be taken during an epidemic, we will be able to handle such a situation in a much more effective manner”, responded the doctor, when asked if Sri Lanka has the necessary manpower and facilities to combat a full-fledged epidemic. 

Speaking of the Joseph Fraser Memorial Hospital’s journey through time, the CEO narrated, “Currently managed by Melsta Health (Pvt) Ltd, the Joseph Fraser Memorial Hospital boasts a rich history of over 97 years. Initially built to treat foreigners of the community of planters in 1923, the hospital opened its doors to all in 1978. However, the recent past saw the hospital lose much of its former glory, due to a lack of maintenance and the unavailability of consultants. After the hospital came under the ownership of Melsta Health (Pvt) Ltd, it underwent a renovation and technological upgrade. Thus, the Joseph Fraser Memorial Hospital has now exceeded its former glory. I firmly believe that the ambience, quiet beauty and immense expansion of space have been the attributes, which have kept the hospital going over the past years. The Joseph Fraser Memorial Hospital is now on par with other leading hospitals when it comes to technology, resources and facilities, while maintaining its vintage architecture and lush surroundings, which set it apart from any other medical facility in Sri Lanka.”

Of the hospital’s latest upgrade, Dr. Iraivan said, “The hospital has been fully renovated and refurbished, while at the same time its original British architecture and quiet green landscape have been preserved and maintained. The hospital now has new units dedicated to intensive care and neonatal intensive care, as well as a blood facility, pharmacy, vaccination centre, breast-feeding training centre and a laboratory, which is operated by a subsidiary of Melsta Health (Pvt) Ltd, Melsta Labs – Sri Lanka’s first stand-alone laboratory service. We have also carried out technical upgrades by adding the very latest machines in the theatres, ICUs and NICUs. The Joseph Fraser Memorial Hospital boasts the latest laparoscopy and hysteroscopy systems in the country. We have employed staff members who are trained in neonatology, theatre related duties, laparoscopy and ward management. We also have full-time physicians who are well-versed in women and children’s healthcare. A new facility has been launched called ‘The Fraser Family Clinic’, where the whole family can receive treatment along with other offerings, such as house calls, deliveries from the pharmacy and 24-hour emergency treatment. There are medical officers stationed at the clinic on a permanent basis in order to cater to the needs of the patients at any time.”

Questioned as to why women should choose the Joseph Fraser Memorial Hospital for their health requirements, the doctor replied, “The Joseph Fraser Memorial Hospital treats only women and children. Therefore, it is a safer option for an expectant mother to visit the Joseph Fraser Memorial Hospital than any other city hospital where large numbers of people suffering from various diseases and infections are treated on a daily basis. The hospital offers exclusive services from the time of conception right up till birth. The hospital also houses an exclusive facility for women during the prenatal (before delivery) and the postnatal (after delivery) stages, which offers exercise and weight loss programs, as well as a physiotherapy service called ‘Active with Fraser Care’, which is centred around pain management. The Joseph Fraser Memorial Hospital caters to all the health needs of every stage of a woman’s life. Therefore, I would recommend the hospital to all ladies of all ages.”Concluding with his vision for Melsta Health (Pvt) Ltd, Dr. Iraivan stated,

“Melsta Health (Pvt) Ltd is a fully owned subsidiary of Sri Lanka’s blue-chip company, Melsta Corp PLC headed by Mr. Harry Jayawardena. Melsta Health (Pvt) Ltd was formed with the intention of owning and managing hospitals and laboratory networks. The company is in the process of achieving its initial targets. With the recent acquisition of Browns Hospital – Ragama, which will be rebranded as Melsta Hospital – Ragama, Melsta Health (Pvt) Ltd now has two hospitals and a stand-alone laboratory chain to its name. My vision for Melsta Health, is to make it the most preferred, reliable and high-quality healthcare provider in the country while looking after the interests of the shareholders”.