Balaji Sadasivan


Balaji Sadasivan (Dr) (b. 11 July 1955 - d. 27 September 2010) was Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and the Member of Parliament for the Ang Mo Kio Group Representation Constituency. A practising neurosurgeon who also held a law degree, he gave up medical practice to enter politics in 2001. He was an active member of the Indian community, as well as a strong proponent of education about AIDS and initiatives for early HIV testing.

Early life and education
Born in Singapore to parents who had emigrated from India, Balaji completed his education at Siglap Secondary School, Raffles Institution and National Junior College. He trained in medicine at the University of Singapore, where he was active in the student union before it was abolished by the government. He also participated in the annual plays of King Edward VII Hall for three years, during which time he met his wife.

In his second year at university, he entered an international essay-writing competition on the environment organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO). He was awarded the opportunity to attend a seminar and workshop in Minamata, Japan, the site of a mercury-poisoning environmental disaster. Accompanied by neurologists while in Minamata, he visited victims of the disaster and observed first-hand the neurological impact of the disaster on their central nervous systems. The visit made a deep impression on him and sparked his interest in neurology.

After graduating from university in 1979 and completing his housemanship and National Service, Balaji applied to specialise in neurosurgery and was attached to Dr Tham Cheok Fai, regarded as the founder of neurosurgery in Singapore, as a trainee. Subsequently, he furthered his training at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, where he became a Fellow in 1984. This was followed by residency training at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, USA, and a Fellowship at Harvard University, with a clinical appointment at the Brigham Hospital and the Boston Children's Hospital.

Medical career
Upon returning to Singapore, Balaji became a neurosurgery consultant in Tan Tock Seng Hospital, where he was responsible for re-organising the care of stroke patients, computerising the neurosurgical intensive care unit, and introducing stereotactic brachytherapy for brain tumours.

He went into private practice in 1994, establishing Singapore's first tereotactic radio-surgical treatment system using a linear accelerator. He established a company after working with Siemens, a medical device company, to develop and build image-guided surgical systems.

As he frequently encountered complex medical, ethical and legal issues in his work, Balaji became interested in the law and earned a law degree with honours from the University of London in 1999.

In 2007, he was elected Chairman of the World Health Organisation Executive Board. One of the main achievements during his term was the passing of international health regulations to deal with epidemics and pandemics in a standardised manner. He also chaired the planning committee of the National Neuroscience Institute. A prolific writer, he authored more than 50 scientific publications and chapters in books on neurosurgery.

A neurosurgeon at Gleneagles Hospital at the time that he entered politics, he had initially considered continuing with medical practice. However, he eventually gave up neurosurgery for politics due to his concern that it would be unfair to his patients if he were not focused solely on medical practice.

Political and grassroots career
Balaji entered politics in 2001 as the candidate of the People's Action Party (PAP) for Ang Mo Kio Group Representation Constituency, in which he headed the Cheng San-Seletar division.

He was subsequently appointed Minister of State for Health and Environment in November 2001. This was followed by his appointment as Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. From May 2006 to March 2010, he held dual portfolios as Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs as well as Information, Communications and the Arts. In April 2010, he relinquished the latter while retaining the foreign affairs portfolio.

In the health portfolio, he helped to guide Singapore through the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crisis in 2003. As a politician, the unusual combination of his medical background and training in law served him well in considering the legal and ethical issues involved in the drafting and promulgation of The Human Cloning and Other Prohibited Practices Act that was passed by Parliament in 2004, as well as amendments to the Broadcasting Act and Electronic Transactions Act.

In May 2006, he was appointed chairman of the National Aids Policy Committee. He is known for championing HIV education in schools and at the workplace, as well as for promoting initiatives to encourage early and regular HIV testing, most notably the implementation of universal antenatal testing.

Balaji was an active and highly regarded member of the Indian community in Singapore. In March 2009, he became Executive President of Sinda, the Indian self-help group. During his tenure, SINDA launched several initiatives including a support programme for single mothers, the SINDA Youth Club, and a partnership with Tamil language teachers to assist academically weaker students. He was also President of the Singapore Indian Education Trust (SIET), an organisation that manages scholarships and loans for Indian tertiary students, and was involved in setting up the Indian Heritage Centre. He also served on the National Steering Committee on Racial and Religious Harmony.

Publication of book
Balaji had a keen interest in history, particularly that of India. During the last years of his life, he wrote a book on the history of India from the Indus Valley civilisation to the Mughal empire. Although he died before the book could be published, his wife, Dr Ma Swan Hoo, assisted in completing it for publication. Entitled The dancing girl: A history of early India, the book was published posthumously in July 2011 by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) and launched by President S. R. Nathan.

In September 2008, Balaji had surgery to remove a malignant tumour in the colon. He underwent subsequent treatment for cancer and withstood it well enough to continue working. In 2010, he had a relapse and passed away on 27 September at the age of 55. His wake was held at the Cheng San Community Club and the funeral service at Mandai Crematorium.

Wife: Dr Ma Swan Hoo
Children: Dharma and Anita

Joanna HS Tan

Citation for Dr Balaji Sadasivan. (2010, May). SMA News, 42(05). Retrieved on September 27, 2010 from
Interview with SMS Dr Balaji Sadasivan. (2010, August). SMA News, 42(08). Retrieved on September 27, 2010 from

Kor, K. B. (2008, September 30). Balaji has op to remove colon tumour. The Straits Times. Retrieved on September 27, 2010 from Factiva.

Ong, A. (2011, July 23). Balaji's last labour of love: Book on India. The Straits Times. Retrieved on August 12, 2011 from Factiva.

Paulo, D. A. (2010, September 28). Balaji Sadasivan; 1955-2010. TODAY. Retrieved on September 28, 2010 from Factiva.

President Nathan: He was an energetic leader. (2010, September 28). The Straits Times. Retrieved on September 28, 2010 from Factiva.

Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Balaji Sadasivan dies. (2010, September 27). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved on September 27, 2010 from Factiva.

SMA Annual Dinner 2010. (2010, May). SMA News, 42(05). Retrieved on September 27, 2010 from

Tribute to our late President, Dr Balaji. (2010, November). SINDA Connections, 8, 3.

Zakaria Abdul Wahab. (2010, September 27). Singapore's Foreign Affairs Senior Minister Dies. Bernama News. Retrieved on September 27, 2010, from

Other resources
Sadasivan, B. (2011). The dancing girl: A history of early India. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

The information in this article is valid as at 2011 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Foreign ministers--Singapore--Biography
Balaji Sadasivan, 1955-2010
Law and government>>Public administration>>Ministries of state
Personalities>>Biographies>>Political Leaders

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