A tribute to a great Leader

Prof Aurelia Jennifer Perera completed this year (2020) two illustrious terms in the office of Dean, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo. This short post is a humble tribute to her, compiled by the Centre for Combating Tobacco (CCT), the WHO-sanctioned Tobacco Observatory in Sri Lanka, hosted by the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo. A centre, which was closely supported and guided by Prof. Jennifer Perera.

The success story of CCT runs parallel to the success story of the two terms of Prof. Jennifer Perera as the Dean. Prof. Jennifer Perera started her first term as the Dean in February 2015, and the following year, CCT was born. The CCT grew and blossomed much to the delight of many that included Prof. Jennifer Perera, the then Vice Chancellor Prof. Lakshaman Dissanayake and the current Vice Chancellor Prof. Chandrika Wijeyaratne. CCT launched the national tobacco observatory web portal, TobaccoUnmasked.lk; released a free mobile app, TobaccoUnmasked HotSpots App, now available on all three languages, making every citizen an active member of monitoring the tobacco industry; expanded its mandate and activities to the entire South Asia region creating the South Asian Regional Consortium Centre for Combating Tobacco (SARC-CCT), and the tobacco observatory information portal TobaccoUnmaskedSouth.Asia.

Looking back at the journey of Prof. Jenniefer Perera as the Dean of this esteemed medical school and the journey of CCT as the tobacco observatory of Sri Lanka and the South Asian Region, it appears that they are journeys that are well traversed, while being highly fruitful and thoroughly enjoyed.

This is not an attempt to summarise the career of this wonderful personality (deliberately ignoring facts such as Prof. Jennifer Perera winning  President’s Awards for Research for seven years in a row from 2007 to 2013); but, as stated, a humble attempt to outline her tenure at the pinnacle of the Colombo Medical School; drawing attention to how she has been an ardent nurturer of the CCT.  Most critical and important acts of such nurturing she rendered are difficult to document, as they were at a level deeper than signing a letter or issuing an order.

 Following are few selected examples of her commitment to the success of CCT:

  • Establishing and sustaining CCT
    • Prof Jennifer Perera is the head of the Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) of the Centre for Combating Tobacco (CCT) since its inception in 2016. She played her role to the fullest, guiding and moulding the path of CCT as the national tobacco observatory, generating a supportive environment within the hosting agency, removing obstacles that emerged time-to-time within its pathway.
  • Unmasking the tobacco industry
    • In July 2017, CCT launched its information dissemination portal TobaccoUnmasked, a website that exposes tobacco industry interference in Sri Lanka under the blessings of Prof. Jennifer Perera. The investigative research findings of the CCT is disseminated via the web portal currently accessed by more than 50,000 users around the world.
    • Jennifer also led the TAP review panel in reviewing posts published and disseminated via TobaccoUnmasked. TAP review is the essential and final part of the review process, ensuring the validity and objectivity of the published posts.
  • Community engagement in monitoring and counteracting tobacco industry interference
    • CCT launched the Community Driven Tobacco Surveillance System in March 2019, after successful piloting of the TobaccoUnmasked HotSpots app and the map from May 2018. Prof. Jennifer Perera was a constant supporter of CDTSS, attending it all main events and supporting administrative and logistic functions related in sustaining the surveillance system.
    • CCT in collaboration with ADIC Sri Lanka organised a community symposium on grass root level actions to control tobacco/alcohol and to counter industry interference on 19th September 2017 at the UCFM under the guidance of Prof. Jennifer Perera.
  • Advocating for implementation of FCTC Article 5.3 – CCT has conducted many advocacy programmes targeting stakeholders of FCTC Article 5.3 implementation, mainly, health professionals, journalists and policy makers
    • Prof Jennifer Perera attended as the chief guest of the very first event conducted by the CCT, “Lecture Discussion on Influence of Tobacco Industry in health sector” on 23rd February 2017, at the Board Room, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo (UCFM).
    • CCT, in collaboration with UCFM and Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC) Sri Lanka, conducted a media discussion on “Exposing rumours spread by tobacco industry” on 28th April 2017 at the Department of Government Information. Prof. Jennifer Perera attended the media discussion representing the UCFM.
    • Merchants of Doubt, a documentary exposing how tobacco industry manipulated science, was screened at the International Medical Congress of the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA), with the support of Prof. Jennifer Perera, a past-President of SLMA.
    • A press briefing and a capacity building workshop was held to introduce the Tobacco Unmasked Hotspots (TUHS) trilingual App on 3rd February 2020. Prof Jennifer Perera attended the event.
  • Expanding to the South Asia Region
    • Jennifer Perera attended the launch of the South Asian Regional Consortium Centre for Combating Tobacco (SARC-CCT), the tobacco industry observatory of South Asia, which was held on 15th July 2019 at the Galle face hotel, Colombo.
    • Launch of the information portal of the SARC-CCT TobaccoUnmaskedSouth.Asia was held on 20th February 2020. Prof. Jennifer Perera participated as a distinguished guest.


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