S. Shan Ratnam
Shanmugaratnam s/o Sittampalam, better known as S. Shan Ratnam (Emeritus Professor; b. 4 July 1928, Ceylon1–d. 6 August 2001, Singapore), was a medical pioneer and leader in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology (O&G) locally and internationally. At the peak of his career, he represented Singapore as the secretary-general of the Asia and Oceania Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (AOFOG) and was the president and a member of the executive board of the International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Through his involvement in these two organisations, he helped place Singapore in the international medical arena and established himself as a prominent figure in the O&G world.2
Sex re-assignment surgery for transsexualism was Ratnam’s research interest for three decades and was also his forte. He performed Singapore’s first sex-change operation in 1971.3
Ratnam is also known as the founder of the in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) programme in Singapore. In 1983, he led a medical team to produce Asia’s first test-tube baby when he introduced IVF in Singapore, bringing hope to many childless couples.4 Singapore’s first test tube baby, Samuel Lee, was born on 19 May 1983. For their work on in-vitro fertilisation, Ratnam and his nine-member team received the Guinness Stout Award.5 Other fertility methods pioneered by the team included tubal embryo transfer and multiple sperm transfer.6 His team of clinicians and scientists went on to achieve various breakthroughs, such as Asia’s first gamete intrafallopian transfer baby in 1986, Asia’s first live birth from a frozen embryo in 1987, the world’s first live birth after microinjection in 1989, and the world’s first infant born via human ampullary coculture in 1991.7
During Ratnam’s tenure with the O&G department at the National University of Singapore (NUS), the department was designated as one of 13 World Health Organisation Collaborating Centres for Research in Human Reproduction in 1972, and gained worldwide recognition and international funding.8 Ratnam’s outstanding clinical and scientific accomplishments included 596 research papers in internationally refereed journals, 396 research papers in local and regional refereed journals, 138 chapters in books and 795 presentations at conferences.9 In 1996, Ratnam was appointed emeritus professor, one of the highest honours in academia. In 2000, the Shan S. Ratnam Professorship endowment fund was set up to award internationally recognised O&G specialists annually.10
Family and death
Ratnam was greatly influenced by his mother’s ideology of giving to and helping others. Though a formidable figure in the academic and medical fields, he tried not to decline anyone.11 He developed heart complications and died of pneumonia at the age of 73 on 6 August 2001. He was survived by a son, a married daughter and two grandchildren.12
Ratnam was awarded posthumously the Honorary Fellow of the College of Family Physicians on 26 August 2001. The Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society of Singapore also launched the S.S. Ratnam Book Prize that year in recognition of his pioneering work and contributions to the field of O&G. The prize, comprising S$500 cash and a certificate, is given annually to the top three final-year NUS medical students at the end of their O&G postings.13
In memory of Ratnam, the AOFOG Council named its Young Gynaecologist Award after him. The Shan Ratnam Young Gynaecologist Award is given to selected young gynaecologists from developing countries within the AOFOG.14
In 2002, in recognition of Ratnam’s commitment to teaching and training in AOFOG, the SSR Foundation was established in Singapore with the aim of providing obstetric ultrasound teaching within AOFOG member states. To continue his legacy of serving patients wholeheartedly, a Professor S.S. Ratnam Memorial Fund to help needy children was also set up in the same year by a group of doctors in Singapore.15
1957: MBBS Honours, Ceylon
1964: Certificate in Exfoliative Cytology, London Postgraduate School of O&G / MRCOG, Great Britain / FRCS, Edinburgh / FRCS, General Surgery, Glasgow
1966: FRCS, General Surgery, England
1970: MD, Thesis on Intrauterine Contraceptive Device, University of Singapore
1972: FRCOG / FACS / FICS
1982: Sims Black Travelling Professorship, RCOG, United Kingdom. 13 honorary memberships, fellowships and degrees
1957–61: Singapore General Hospital
1961–63: Kandang Kerbau Hospital
1963–68: Lecturer, Department of O&G, University of Singapore
1968–69: Senior Lecturer, Department of O&G, University of Singapore
1970–95: Professor and Head, Department of O&G, University of Singapore/National University of Singapore
1958–: Member, Singapore Medical Association
1963–2001: Member, Royal Society of Medicine, United Kingdom
1967–: Member, Chapter of O&G, Academy of Medicine, Singapore
1968–2001: Member, British Medical Association
1969: Chairman, Committee for O&G, NUS
1969–71: Chairman, Chapter of O&G, Academy of Medicine, Singapore
1969–72: President, Singapore Medical Association
1970: Chief Examiner, M Med in O&G, NUS
1971–: Member, Family Planning Association of Singapore
1971–2001: Member, Obstetrical & Gynaecological Society of Singapore (Board of Trustees of Trust Fund)
1972–82: President, Family Planning Association of Singapore
1977–78: President, Singapore Medical Association
1979–93: Council member, Singapore Medical Association
1983–84: Council member, Family Planning Association of Singapore
1985–2001: President Emeritus, Family Planning Association of Singapore
1988: Director, Graduate School of Medical Studies, NUS
1977: Singapore Public Administration Gold Medal
1978: NTUC Friend of Labour Medal
1983: Guinness Stout Effort Award20
1985: Public Service Star
1988: National Science & Technology Award, Singapore Science Council
1991: ASEAN Award for contributions to Reproductive Medicine
1. Low Kar Chew and Peter K.G. Dunlop, eds., Who’s Who in Singapore (Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, 2000), 213–14. (Call no. RSING 920.05957 WHO)
2. Tan Kok Hian and Tay Eng Hseon, eds., The History of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Singapore (Singapore: Obstetrical & Gynaecological Society of Singapore, National Heritage Board, 2003), 498–502. (Call no. RSING 618.095957 HIS)
3. Tan and Tay, History of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 498–502.
4. Melanie Chew, Leaders of Singapore (Singapore: Resource Press, 1996), 284–86. (Call no. RSING q920.05957 CHE)
5. “Test-tube Baby Team to Receive Award,” Straits Times, 5 August 1983, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Fertilisation Pioneer Team Honoured,” Business Times, 10 October 1988, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Tan and Tay, History of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 498–502.
8. Tan and Tay, History of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 498–502; Chew, Leaders of Singapore, 284–86.
9 Low and Dunlop, Who’s Who in Singapore, 213–14.
10. Tan and Tay, History of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 498–502.
11. Chew, Leaders of Singapore, 284–86.
12. K. C. Vijayan and Chan Kay Min, “Medical Pioneer Ratnam Dies,” Straits Times, 7 August 2001, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Tan and Tay, History of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 498–502; “Book Prize Named After Prof Ratnam,” Straits Times, 12 November 2001, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Tan and Tay, History of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 498–502.
15. Tan and Tay, History of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 498–502.
16. Low and Dunlop, Who’s Who in Singapore, 213–14; Tan and Tay, History of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 498–502.
17. Low and Dunlop, Who’s Who in Singapore, 213–14.
18. Low and Dunlop, Who’s Who in Singapore, 213–14.
19. Low and Dunlop, Who’s Who in Singapore, 213–14; Tan and Tay, History of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 498–502.
20. “Test-tube Baby Team.”
Y. Salmon, S. Arulkumaran and Daniel, R. O., eds., A Short History of the Obstetrical & Gynaecological Society of Singapore 1972–1993 (Singapore: Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society of Singapore, 1994). (Call no. RSING 618.0605957 SHO)
S. S. Ratnam, ed., Adolescent Sexuality. (Singapore: Singapore University Press for Family Planning Association of Singapore, 1979.) (Call no. RSING 301.4175095957 ADO)
S. S. Ratnam, Sabaratnam Arulkumran and D. K. Sen, eds., Problem Oriented Approach to Obstetrics & Gynaecology (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1997). (Call no. RSING 618 PRO)
S. S. Ratnam, Victor H. H. Goh and Wing Foo Tsoi, Cries from Within: Transsexualism, Gender Confusion & Sex Change (Singapore: Longman Singapore, 1991). (Call no. RSING 616.8583 RAT)
The information in this article is valid as at 24 March 2021 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.