The Faculty of Medicine, University of Ruhuna has produced over 3000 doctors in its 30 years of existence. These doctors serve Sri Lanka as specialists, medical administrators and non-specialists in many parts of the country. It is also involved in providing tertiary healthcare facilities at the Teaching Hospital, Karapitiya and Teaching Hospital Mahamodara and in providing primary health care to the neighbouring community of Bope-Poddala. The Medical Exhibition Centre has paved the way to yet another service to the public of Sri Lanka but it is of a different dimension.
The idea of setting up a Medical Exhibition Centre (MEC) was conceived soon after the Medical Exhibition that was held in January 2006. We had over 180,000 visitors including 70,000 school children for that exhibition. Such a public response emphasized the fact that the public and especially schoolchildren are yearning to learn about the human body in health and in disease. At that stage our Faculty was convinced that a MEC is a need for our society. In order to meet this need the Faculty has strived for the past four years to set up the MEC which was ceremonially opened by the Chairman of the University Grants Commission Professor Gamini Samaranayake on the 6th of May 2009.
How to get there
The MEC is a novel facility that is located within the premises of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Ruhuna. It is located just across the road from the Teaching Hospital, Karapitiya, Galle. It takes less than 10 minutes for the 6km drive from the town centre to reach the MEC. The MEC was developed during a period of three years involving careful planning and designing and through creative thinking and hard work. Human resources that were utilized in this project were mainly drawn from staff and students of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Ruhuna.
What does it offer?
The main aim of the MEC is to educate the public on health related matters. It is specially designed to cater to GCE O Level and A Level students in the field of Bioscience. The MEC has illustrations of normal human anatomy (structure) and physiology (function) that could be understood even by the lay public. All exhibits are labeled in English and Sinhala giving some detail to enable greater understanding and is expected to help students in preparation for their examinations. The gallery Exhibits on display include a) dissected bodies, body parts and organs from actual human beings, b) 3D models of cells, its components (organelles), organs of the body such as brain, heart, lungs, liver kidneys etc. and those of the skin and systems of the body such as nervous system, cardiovascular system, respiratory system, hepato-biliary, gastrointestinal and genitourinary systems and c) embossed models of organs and systems of the human body as mentioned above. Exhibits are laid out an area of 7000 square feet in a system based manner so that all exhibits that illustrate a particular system of the body will be clustered together to enable greater understanding. In this exhibition area pre-recorded informative health talks will be played through the public address system. Most of the dissected bodies, body parts and organs are derived from normal individuals. There structures have been meticulously dissected by well trained doctors. These body parts are well sealed inside Perspex jars so that they can seen be with clarity at close range in an odour free environment. Dissected human bodies, human body parts and organs are well preserved giving life like appearance of structures showing finer details like distribution of nerves, arteries and veins. Dissections are carried out on different parts and organs of the body to make them appear very explicit. Some exhibits can be viewed from all directions giving a complete three dimensional and a 360 degree view to facilitate better understanding. In some exhibits windows of tissue have been cut open to view deeper tissue simulating what a surgeon would see during operations. In similar manner body cavities such as the cranium, thorax and abdomen have been cut open in some exhibits to show what is inside those cavities in detail. What is inside vital organs such as the brain, heart, lung, liver and kidneys are shown in detail by careful dissection. These can be viewed in many planes or sections. Highlights of the dissected specimens include an entire body dissected in saggital section to show what is inside it from head down to the torso and another standing body showing its muscles from head to toe. Another highlight is a large 3D model of a human cell which is taller than 10 feet showing its organelles (its microscopy structure) in detail. This cell is so big that you can virtually walk into it. The biggest exhibit is a model of the respiratory system (lungs) done to scale reaching a height of more than 12 feet. The trend to illustrate organs and systems of the body by using 3D models and embossed models which are ‘mega-structures’ is a striking feature of the Medical Exhibition Centre. It has enabled us to illustrate anatomical details and can be seen with clarity even at a distance. These models have been prepared to measurements matching actual proportions and in true to life colour. Human body parts and organs that are on display are identified in Sinhala and in English in a digital photograph of the actual item placed next to it. Such an arrangement is expected to help school children to remember what they see with ease. Constructions of these models have been done by four young doctors who are very talented. They are graduates of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Ruhuna and there names are Janaka Rajapaksha, Lakmal de Silva, Umesh Tharanga de Silva and Yasiru Sampath Alawatta. Alongside exhibits we hope to set up questions regarding these items. These questions will be of relevance to GCE O level and A level Biology examinations papers and questions are also expected to arouse public interest in matters relating health and disease for all those who visit the MEC. It is bound to increase the knowledge about the structure of the human body and matters relating to health in visitors without a doubt. Over months and years to come these questions will be changed to retain the novelty thereby enhancing the resourcefulness of the Centre.
The lecture theatre
Another special feature of the MEC is its air-conditioned lecture theatre with accommodation for 80 people. This is meant for public education regarding common diseases that affect us. It is expected to provide a wealth of information for schoolchildren as well. Currently, a 30-minute video regarding common health problems and a short video-clip about the Medical School is shown in the lecture theatre. In addition, we hope to have health education talks in this location in the future.
How one can make best use of the Centre
As there are over 300 exhibits on display schoolchildren might find it difficult to grasp all the factual knowledge in relation to Biology during a single visit. As such we recommend that they visit the MEC several times to learn from this resource centre in a piece-meal but systematic manner and to build up their knowledge over a period of time. It is a place where the science teacher can bring his pupils and conduct a full lesson or part of it. The MEC would be an ideal environment for eager minds to grasp knowledge in reality when surrounded by actual specimens and models in sharp contrast to going through a lesson confined to books at school. Schoolchildren are encouraged to take down notes about what they see during the visit. The visit would be of educational value for children in lower classes as well. Therefore, besides coming in visits arranged by the school this place is worthy of a visit by the entire family. We encourage school principals and science teachers of the schools to programme science teaching in their schools by supplementing them with visits to the MEC. It may be desirable for schools to schedule a compulsory visit to this resource centre so that science teachers could come along with their students and teach around exhibits. Later on students can be encouraged to write about what they saw during their visit to the MEC. This can even be part of their school science project. We are encouraging visits of schoolchildren by giving concessionary rates and by accepting group bookings in advance. Exhibits will be changed from time to time to retain the novelty of the Centre. We also hope to introduce theme based sets of exhibits such as ‘smoking and disease’, ‘alcohol and disease’ etc. in time to come. The MEC will be open to the public every Saturday and Sunday. Admission fee will be Rs 50. Fee for children in school uniform will be Rs 30. Group bookings for schoolchildren are advised to be made directly through the Assistant Registrar of the Faculty of Medicine (call 0912243240) in advance and we encourage such bookings for practical reasons. However, individuals and small groups of visitors can purchase their tickets on arrival at the gate. The MEC is a permanent medical exhibition but it will be modified from time to time to retain its novelty. As no such facility is available elsewhere in Sri Lanka it is expected to attract the interest and attention of the Sri Lankan public as well as that of schoolteachers and schoolchildren.