Occupational Therapy in Sri Lanka




History records indicate that for many centuries occupation has been regarded as necessary for recovering from illness. Mythology of western civilisation, as well as that of Aryan, records instances where work and music have been used for curative purposes. In the study of history one can find similar references which record the evaluation of these ideas which have led to the development of the medical discipline now known as occupational therapy. It appears that the application of this discipline was little known in Sri Lanka until the Second World War when the basic concepts of occupational therapy were used at the Lunatic Asylum at Angoda, Colombo.
These concepts have taken root and the Department of Medical and Sanitary Services took steps to introduce services by recruiting qualified persons from abroad under the Coloi ibo Plan Development Programme. The two occupational therapists thus recruited in 1952 took up appoint-ments in and around Colombo. During this period there was also a recommendation for the development of occupational therapy services at the Lunatic Asylum. Thus, the development recognised the need for the expansion of occupational therapy service and recruited suitable persons for training at the London School of occupational therapy.

In 1955, Mr. D. J. Atukorala MA(OT) (pioneer in Sri Lanka) was appointed to the Mental Hospital, Angoda to organise occupational therapy services. Others were appointed to tuberculous services, leprosy, and orthopaedics. In addition, over the years six others qualified in training schools abroad, mainly in India, and took up appointments.

The Department of Health Sery ices appointed a special committee in 1973 to examine and report on the expansion of the occupational therapy service, and the need for training occupational therapists locally. The committee included one occupational therapy representative, Miss Forn from WHO (World Health Organization). As a result a training programme in occu-pational therapy was initiated by the Department of Health in conjunction with the School of Physiotherapy in April 1976 and the school was renamed as the School of Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy.




The School of physical therapy and occupational therapy, Colombo, is the only school for the training of occupational therapists and physical therapists in Sri Lanka and is run in association with the Faculty of Medi-cine, University of Colombo. The first two tutors appointed to the school, Miss 0. Senaratne, Dip OT and Mr. P.W. Vidanagamage BSc OT, were sent for a one-year fellowship in the UK before they assumed duties at the school. The course is of 3 years duration, comprising 2 academic years and 1 year internship. The certificate of proficiency is awarded thereafter. Examina-tions are conducted by the Board of Examinations from the Faculty of Medi-cine, University of Colombo, relevant consultants, and lecturers from the School of physical therapy and occupational therapy. To date, 44 occupa-tional therapists have been trained at the school.



Professional Association


This was established in 1968. The initiation of the occupational therapy training programme is one of the aeitievements of the Association. Due to the limited number of occupational therapists, retirement, and emigration of persons, the Association became inactive. After local training was established, the number of members increased and this led to the enhanced effectiveness of the Association. At the present time the Sri Lanka Association it of occupational therapists has 37 meri ers and is managed by a small council. It publishes an official journal annuallk and also organises education sessions and maintains a professional library with the aim of promoting knowledge of members.

We received a lot of new occupational therapy publications and text-books with the generous help of Mist' Anne Murdoch, UK educationalist, t who was in Sri Lanka recently and sited the school and several depart-ments. Also we received educational materials with the generous help of Miss Norah Ferriss, Chairman, WFOT legislation Committee. As the result of discussions with the Health Authority they agreed to an extension of the duration of the training course and asikeurriculum review, and also agreed to registration of occupational therapiks under the new PSM act which we proposed. The Department of Health Services has initiated scholarship facil-ities for the tutors of occupational theileapy this year with the help of WHO.




Most of our therapists are working in the Government Health Service. This includes general hospitals, specialised hospitals, children's hospitals, mental hospitals, and a few base hospitals. During the past few years some trainees have been recruited to the school from government forces (Army, Navy, Air Force) and therefore the service of occupational therapy has been extended to the forces. In addition to this, therapists are working in the private sector.

WHO has initiated community-based rehabilitation programmes in Sri Lanka and hence the demand for occupational therapy has been increased. Recently most of our therapists have been working in community-based rehabilitation projects in various provinces.
There are vast requirements for vocational rehabilitation for physically disabled people following ethnic problems and the current situation. This need has been filled by the establishment of a new government vocational rehabilitation centre. Due to this, the government has decided to increase the intake of occupational therapists.



- This article was obtained with curtsey of Mr. P.D. Yapa. This was published in WFOT Journal in 1983