Balaji Sadasivan


Balaji Sadasivan (Dr) (b. 11 July 1955–d. 27 September 2010) was a former senior minister of state for foreign affairs and a member of parliament for the Ang Mo Kio group representation constituency (GRC).1 As Singapore’s first and only US board-certified neurosurgeon, Balaji gave up medical practice to enter into politics in 2001.2 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.3

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 colonial government.4 Balaji also participated in the annual plays of King Edward VII Hall for three years, during which time he met his wife.5

In his second year at university, he entered and won 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. During his trip, Balaji witnessed 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.6

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 as a trainee, the latter regarded as the founder of neurosurgery in Singapore. Subsequently, he furthered his training at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, where he became a fellow in 1984.7 This was followed by residency training at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, United States, and a fellowship at Harvard University, with a clinical appointment at Brigham Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital.8

Medical career
Upon returning to Singapore, Balaji became a neurosurgery consultant at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, where he was responsible for reorganising the care of stroke patients, computerising the neurosurgical intensive care unit, and introducing stereotactic brachytherapy for brain tumours.9

He went into private practice in 1994, establishing Singapore’s first tereotactic radio-surgical treatment system using a linear accelerator. He established a company to develop and build image-guided surgical systems after working with Siemens.10

As he frequently encountered complex medical, ethical and legal issues in his work, Balaji became interested in law and went on to attain a law degree with honours from the University of London in 1999.11

In 2007, he was elected chairman of the WHO executive board.12 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.13 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.14

A neurosurgeon at Gleneagles Hospital at the time he entered into politics, he had initially considered continuing with medical practice.15 However, he eventually gave up neurosurgery for politics as he thought that it would be unfair to his patients if he were not focused solely on his medical practice.16

Political and grassroots career
Balaji entered politics in 2001 as a People's Action Party (PAP) candidate for Ang Mo Kio GRC, in which he headed the Cheng San-Seletar division.17 Balaji was deeply concerned about the needs of the elderly in his ward and not only initiated a new active ageing centre in Ang Mo Kio Town Garden East but also raised S$250,000 towards the total S$3-million cost of the centre.18

In November 2001, Balaji was appointed the minister of state for health, environment and transport.19 This was followed by his appointment as senior minister of state for foreign affairs.20 From May 2006 to March 2010, he held dual portfolios as senior minister of state for foreign affairs and minister for information, communications and the arts.21 For the latter, Balaji played a key role in the the initial conceptualisation of the National Arts Gallery, including sourcing for choice gallery design ideas via a public competition.22 In April 2010, he relinquished the ministerial position while retaining the foreign affairs portfolio.23

In the health portfolio, he helped to guide Singapore through the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) crisis in 2003.24 As a politician, the unusual combination of his medical background and legal training 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 passed by Parliament in 2004, as well as amendments to the Broadcasting Act and Electronic Transactions Act.25

In May 2006, Balaji was appointed chairman of the National Aids Policy Committee and continued to serve as chairman even after leaving the health ministry.26 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.27

Balaji was an active and highly regarded member of the Indian community in Singapore.28 In March 2009, he became the executive president of the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA), an Indian self-help group.29 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.30 He was also president of the Singapore Indian Education Trust, an organisation that manages scholarships and loans for Indian tertiary students, and was involved in setting up the Indian Heritage Centre.31 He also served on the National Steering Committee on Racial and Religious Harmony.32 Through his advisory position at the Narpani Pearavai (Indian Activity Executive Committees Council), which runs at all community clubs, Balaji fostered community cohesion among the Indian community.33

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 was published, his wife, Ma Swan Hoo, assisted in completing it for publication.34 Entitled The Dancing Girl: A History of Early India, the book was published posthumously in July 2011 by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (now ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute) and launched by then President S. R. Nathan.35


Death
In September 2008, Balaji had surgery to remove a malignant tumour in the colon.36 He underwent subsequent treatment for cancer and withstood it well enough to continue working. After a two-year battle with colon cancer, Balaji suffered a relapse in 2010 and passed away on 27 September at the age of 55.37 His wake was held at the Cheng San Community Club and the funeral service at Mandai Crematorium.38

Family39
Wife: Ma Swan Hoo
Children: Dharma and Anita



Author

Joanna HS Tan



References
1. Satku, K. (2010, May). Citation for Dr Balaji Sadasivan. SMA News. Retrieved 2015, December 21 from Singapore Medical Association website: http://news.sma.org.sg/4205/Citation_SMSSadasivan.pdf; Colleagues mourn minister’s death. (2010, September 28). The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva.

2. Satku, K. (2010, May). Citation for Dr Balaji Sadasivan. SMA News. Retrieved 2015, December 21 from Singapore Medical Association website: http://news.sma.org.sg/4205/Citation_SMSSadasivan.pdf; Ng, W. C. (2010, September 28). Dr Balaji Sadasivan… He inspired… He shared. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva.
3. Paulo, D. A. (2010, September 28). Balaji Sadasivan; 1955–2010. Today. Retrieved from Factiva; Satku, K. (2010, May). Citation for Dr Balaji Sadasivan. SMA News. Retrieved 2015, December 21 from Singapore Medical Association website: http://www.webcitation.org/5t8El6vUr
4. Satku, K. (2010, May). Citation for Dr Balaji Sadasivan. SMA News. Retrieved 2015, December 21 from Singapore Medical Association website: http://news.sma.org.sg/4205/Citation_SMSSadasivan.pdf; Ng, W. C. (2010, September 28). Dr Balaji Sadasivan… He inspired… He shared. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva.
5. Ng, W. C. (2010, September 28). Dr Balaji Sadasivan… He inspired… He shared. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva; Li, X. (2010, September 28). Winning people over with his big heart. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
6. Li, X. (2010, September 28). Winning people over with his big heart. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
7. Satku, K. (2010, May). Citation for Dr Balaji Sadasivan. SMA News. Retrieved 2015, December 21 from Singapore Medical Association website: http://news.sma.org.sg/4205/Citation_SMSSadasivan.pdf
8. Satku, K. (2010, May). Citation for Dr Balaji Sadasivan. SMA News. Retrieved 2015, December 21 from Singapore Medical Association website: http://news.sma.org.sg/4205/Citation_SMSSadasivan.pdf
9. Zakaria Abdul Wahab. (2010, September 27). Singapore’s foreign affairs senior minister dies. Bernama News. Retrieved 2010, December 21 from South-South Information Gateway website: http://www.ssig.gov.my/blog/2010/09/27/singapores-foreign-affairs-senior-minister-dies/; Satku, K. (2010, May). Citation for Dr Balaji Sadasivan. SMA News. Retrieved 2015, December 21 from Singapore Medical Association website: http://news.sma.org.sg/4205/Citation_SMSSadasivan.pdf
10. Satku, K. (2010, May). Citation for Dr Balaji Sadasivan. SMA News. Retrieved 2015, December 21 from Singapore Medical Association website: http://news.sma.org.sg/4205/Citation_SMSSadasivan.pdf
11. Satku, K. (2010, May). Citation for Dr Balaji Sadasivan. SMA News. Retrieved 2015, December 21 from Singapore Medical Association website: http://news.sma.org.sg/4205/Citation_SMSSadasivan.pdf
12. Zakaria Abdul Wahab. (2010, September 27). Singapore’s foreign affairs senior minister dies. Bernama News. Retrieved 2010, December 21 from South-South Information Gateway website: http://www.ssig.gov.my/blog/2010/09/27/singapores-foreign-affairs-senior-minister-dies/; Li, X. (2010, September 28). Winning people over with his big heart. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
13. Satku, K. (2010, May). Citation for Dr Balaji Sadasivan. SMA News. Retrieved 2015, December 21 from Singapore Medical Association website: http://news.sma.org.sg/4205/Citation_SMSSadasivan.pdf; PM Lee expresses condolences on passing of Dr Balaji. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
14. Satku, K. (2010, May). Citation for Dr Balaji Sadasivan. SMA News. Retrieved 2015, December 21 from Singapore Medical Association website: http://news.sma.org.sg/4205/Citation_SMSSadasivan.pdf
15. Kor, K. B. (2008, September 30). Balaji has op to remove colon tumour. The Straits Times; Paulo, D. A. (2010, September 28). Balaji Sadasivan; 1955–2010. Today. Retrieved from Factiva.
16. Kor, K. B. (2008, September 30). Balaji has op to remove colon tumour. The Straits Times; Paulo, D. A. (2010, September 28). Balaji Sadasivan; 1955-2010. Today. Retrieved from Factiva; PM Lee expresses condolences n passing of Dr Balaji. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
17. Satku, K. (2010, May). Citation for Dr Balaji Sadasivan. SMA News. Retrieved 2015, December 21 from Singapore Medical Association website: http://news.sma.org.sg/4205/Citation_SMSSadasivan.pdf; Colleagues mourn minister’s death. (2010, September 28). The Business Times; Li, X. (2010, September 28). Winning people over with his big heart. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
18. Li, X. (2010, September 28). Winning people over with his big heart. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Ong, A., & Toh, E. (2010, September 28). A gentle and caring man, say residents. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
19. Satku, K. (2010, May). Citation for Dr Balaji Sadasivan. SMA News. Retrieved 2015, December 21 from Singapore Medical Association website: http://news.sma.org.sg/4205/Citation_SMSSadasivan.pdf
20. Kor, K. B. (2008, September 30). Balaji has op to remove colon tumour. The Straits Times; Colleagues mourn minister’s death. (2010, September 28). The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
21. Kor, K. B. (2008, September 30). Balaji has op to remove colon tumour. The Straits Times; Colleagues mourn minister’s death. (2010, September 28). The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
22. PM Lee expresses condolences on passing of Dr Balaji. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
23. Colleagues mourn minister’s death. (2010, September 28). The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
24. Colleagues mourn minister’s death. (2010, September 28). The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
25. Satku, K. (2010, May). Citation for Dr Balaji Sadasivan. SMA News. Retrieved 2015, December 21 from Singapore Medical Association website: http://news.sma.org.sg/4205/Citation_SMSSadasivan.pdf
26. Satku, K. (2010, May). Citation for Dr Balaji Sadasivan. SMA News. Retrieved 2015, December 21 from Singapore Medical Association website: http://news.sma.org.sg/4205/Citation_SMSSadasivan.pdf; PM Lee expresses condolences on passing of Dr Balaji. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
27. Satku, K. (2010, May). Citation for Dr Balaji Sadasivan. SMA News. Retrieved 2015, December 21 from Singapore Medical Association website: http://news.sma.org.sg/4205/Citation_SMSSadasivan.pdf; PM Lee expresses condolences on passing of Dr Balaji. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
28. President Nathan: He was an energetic leader. (2010, September 28). The Straits Times; PM Lee expresses condolences on passing of Dr Balaji. Channel NewsAsia; Colleagues mourn minister’s death. (2010, September 28). The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
29. Satku, K. (2010, May). Citation for Dr Balaji Sadasivan. SMA News. Retrieved 2015, December 21 from Singapore Medical Association website: http://news.sma.org.sg/4205/Citation_SMSSadasivan.pdf; PM Lee expresses condolences on passing of Dr Balaji. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
30. PM Lee expresses condolences on passing of Dr Balaji. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
31. Paulo, D. A. (2010, September 28). Balaji Sadasivan; 1955–2010. Today. Retrieved from Factiva.
32. Satku, K. (2010, May). Citation for Dr Balaji Sadasivan. SMA News. Retrieved 2015, December 21 from Singapore Medical Association website: http://news.sma.org.sg/4205/Citation_SMSSadasivan.pdf
33. PM Lee expresses condolences on passing of Dr Balaji. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
34. Ong, A. (2011, July 23). Balaji’s last labour of love: Book on India. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
35. Ong, A. (2011, July 23). Balaji’s last labour of love: Book on India. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Sadasivan, B. (2011). The dancing girl: A history of early India. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. (Call no.: RSING 954.02 SAD)
36. Zakaria Abdul Wahab. (2010, September 27). Singapore’s foreign affairs senior minister dies. Bernama News. Retrieved 2016, December 21 from South-South Information Gateway website: http://www.ssig.gov.my/blog/2010/09/27/singapores-foreign-affairs-senior-minister-dies/; Paulo, D. A. (2010, September 28). Balaji Sadasivan; 1955–2010. Today. Retrieved from Factiva.
37. Lin, R. (2010, September 28). ‘A sad loss to all’. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
38. Colleagues mourn minister’s death. (2010, September 28). The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
39. Colleagues mourn minister’s death. (2010, September 28). The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva.



Further resources
Hundreds of people bid final farewell to Dr Balaji. (2010, September 30). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.


Tributes to a man of principle. (2010, September 28). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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.

 

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

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