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Pioneer is a man of principle

JONA BOLA
Thursday, November 09, 2006

Old age may have taken its toll on this giant of a man, judging from his grey hair and thick-lensed spectacles he was wearing but the one thing that remains part of his life is discipline.

Discipline has been the key that has driven Doctor Jona Baravilala Senilagakali into becoming one of Fiji's best known and respected medical practitioners.

Not only is Dr Senilagakali respected locally, he is one of the few remaining pioneering doctors who has continuously being recognised the world over for their contribution to health on a global scale.

Recently, he was honoured by the International Biographical Centre, in Cambridge, England, which awarded him with the IBC Achievement Award in recognition for his outstanding contribution to health services in Fiji.

The IBC said the award was only conferred after a thorough evaluation of each candidate's qualification by the members of the IBC research and advisory board.

"This award is made to selected noteworthy individuals across the globe in recognition of their life time accomplishments," the IBC said.

Coincidentally, I visited him yesterday and was surprised to find out it was his 77th birthday so the award was a birthday present from Planet Earth and it meant the world to him.

Dr Senilagakali, who is from the chiefly village of Tubou, Lakeba, in Lau, is one the few remaining doctors who have gone through many changes within the Health Ministry in Fiji.

He is married with five children and five grandchildren, all of whom he adores.

He said his principle of discipline had moulded his children to where they were now, including son Dr Wame Baravilala, who followed in his father's footstep into the medical field.

Sitting in his office at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks, in Nabua, Suva, where he serves as the military doctor, he recalled his younger days at Queen Victoria School.

"It was at school where discipline was driven through my brain and my blood by the then school principal, Mr Tom Blinges, from England," he said. "Education was tough then. We had to endure many hardships, compared to the comforts that students are being pampered with now.

"But I tell you it was discipline that saw us through and paved the way to where we are now.

"I remember during a school assembly we were told by the principal that we Fijians lacked stick ability'," he said.

Dr Senilagakali said he had to go to the principal to ask what he meant. "The principal said Fijian students tend to shy away from hard tasks once they had tried it once.

"They do not give it a second chance or another try," he said.

"These words can never get out of my mind and I have even shared it with my children as well as my grandchildren."

He said it was during his last year at QVS that he decided to become a doctor.

"We were told to write essays about the health system and that was how we were marked and I got through.

"We were students at Tamavua when Queen Elizabeth came to open the institution and we were presented to her, she was young and very pretty," he said jokingly.

Dr Senilagakali said he was one in the health profession who had gone through the system.

"I have worked in the smallest health centre to some of the major hospitals around the country and have even been in the Health Ministry headquarters as the permanent secretary," he said.

Dr Senilagakali said he fully understood the structure of the health system and he had seen many changes since he joined the profession.

"One thing that has always bothered me is the fact that most young doctors tend to value their work to the income they are getting. For me, being a doctor is all about providing the best service available to patients ... that is the first and foremost priority.

"Patients come first and the pay packet is just a fringe benefit for the services that one provides," he said.

Dr Senilagakali said young doctors must always put patients as their priority.

"I guess most would claim that the work demands a lot of money but for me, patients are why doctors exist and they should always come first," he said.

"I've had a few controversial meetings with young doctors who are opposed some of my principles but somehow we always tried to understand each other's views.

"However, what I would like to ask young doctors is to conduct your duties with pride and dignity and maintain discipline.

"We are a dying generation of doctors. We hope that the upcoming ones will uphold their oath and maintain discipline in the field as it is a noble profession," Dr Senilagakali said.