ln memoriam


Emeritus Professor S. S. Ratnam


Professor Shan S. Ratnam




(1928 - 2001)


Emeritus Professor Shanmugharatnam , past President of the International Federation of

Gynaecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) and former head of the National University of

Singapore’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, passed away in Singapore on 6th August 2001.

He was born in Sri Lanka on 4th July 1928 and graduated with M.B.B.S.



(Hons) from the University of Ceylon, Colombo, Sri Lanka. He subsequently moved to


Singapore and has been responsible in bringing glory to Singapore in the world's arena


of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. During his lifetime he had achieved much and had been


heaped with many honours.


Professor S. Shan Ratnam was appointed Lecturer in the Department of Obstetrics


and Gynaecology in 1963 of the former University of Singapore at the Kandang Kerbau


Hospital. Professor Ratnam pursued his postgraduate studies in the United Kingdom and


returned to Singapore in 1965, having obtained his membership of the Royal College of


Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (MRCOG), the FRCS Edinburgh (Obstetrics &


Gynaecology), FRCS Glasgow (General Surgery) and FRCS England (General




The National University of Singapore appointed him Professor and Head of the


Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in 1970, a post he held for 25 years


until he stepped down in July 1995. ln 1972 he was made a Fellow of the Royal College


of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, FRCOG (UK), and later, in 1977, he was made Fellow


of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons. During the period 1983 to 1993, Professor


Ratnam received several other honorary degrees, conferred on him by the Colleges and


Societies of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in Australia, West Africa, USA, Japan,


Korea, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines.



ln 1988, the National University of Singapore appointed Professor Ratnam as its


Director of the School of Postgraduate Medical Studies. As Head of the Department of


Obstetrics and Gynaecology, a post he held concurrently with the Directorship of the


Postgraduate School, Professor Ratnam had clear visions as to how his department


Ought to be managed and what goals it should achieve. He saw the urgent need to bring


scientist and clinician together in order to bring his department to the forefront in international


research. The blend of service, research, and training, it is worthwhile noting, was a


unique and outstanding feature of Professor Ratnam's department.


Professor Shan Ratnam was a well-known and well-liked figure not only locally, but


also regionally and internationally.


Locally he was President of the Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society of


Singapore, Chairman of the Chapter of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of the


Academy of Medicine and President of the Family Planning Association of Singapore.


Regionally, he served in an editorial capacity with several journals on the subject of


Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Perinatology. He held the position of Secretary­


General, Asia & Oceania Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and President of the


Federation of Asia & Oceania Perinatal Societies and the MASEAN Chapter of


Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.


The World Health Organisation enlisted his services as Chairman of its Policy and


Coordinating Committee and Member of its Scientific Technical Advisory Group. The


other international positions he held include those of President, International Federation


of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), the highest international honour in the


speciality; President, International Association of Supporters of FIGO (SOFIGO);


Representative (Asia & Oceania), International Association for MaternaI and Neonatal


Health (IAMANAH) and Director, Society for the Advancement of Contraception.


As an academic, he obtained his Doctorate in Medicine by thesis from the then


University of Singapore in 1970. He has published some 596 articles in International


Refereed Journals, and 396 in local and Regional Refereed Journals. He has written 138


chapters in books and attended 795 conferences in many of which he had been invited to


present seminal papers.


As a clinician he was beyond comparison. ln his early life as a gynaecologist, the plight


of sub-fertile women so touched him that he undertook pioneering work in this field. Having the


foresight to be at the forefront of reproductive biology, Professor Ratnam was quick to initiate a


test-tube baby program in the department in 1982 as soon as the first world's test-tube


baby was born in 1978. He subsequently led a team of renowned clinicians and


scientists to produce the birth of Asia's first in-vitro fertilization (IVF) baby in 1983,


followed by Asia's first GIFT baby in 1986. Asia's first frozen embryo baby in 1987,


the world's first microinjection baby in 1989 and the world's first babies born via


human-ampullary co-culture in 1991. The infrastructure of a sound and sophisticated


centre in Assisted Reproductive Technology, which he built, formed the foundation on


which scores of other scientists achieved their innovations and made their names




The surgical procedures of gender reassignment or trans-sexualism are synonymous


both nationally and internationally with the name Ratnam. His published work in this


area with the late Professor Sheares prompted a male trans-sexual to seek his help for


reassignment surgery. He developed the surgical procedures and treatment thereafter


for the care of male to female and female to male patients. Today, this is an accepted mode of

treatment for such patients, and Professor Ratnam' s innovative techniques have entered the text


books of Human Reproduction.


Professor Ratnam has also received various National Honours. ln 1977, he received


the Singapore Public Administration Gold Medal. The following year the Singapore


National Trade Union Congress awarded him the "Friend of Labour" medal. ln 1985,


on the Singapore National Awards day, he was honoured with the Public Services Star.


ln 1988, he and his team on sub-fertility were given the National Science and Technology


award. This was followed in 1991 by the ASEAN award for contributions to Reproductive




His immense contributions to the National University of Singapore were recognized


when he was made Emeritus Professor in 1996 and with the Endowment of the S. Shan


Ratnam Professorship available annually to internationally reputed specialists in


Obstetrics and Gynaecology in 2000. For Professor  Ratnam's contributions to Family


Medicine in Singapore, he was posthumously awarded the Honorary Fellowship of the

College of Family Physicians of Singapore on 26th August 2001.


He was kind and always had time for his staff and their problems. For those who


have had the opportunity to work with him, it has been a rare experience. Although


Professor Ratnam retired as Head of Department in July 1995, he continued to serve as


Professorial Fellow in the Department, being active untill the very end in spite of

indifferent health after suffering a mild stroke at the end of 1999. He passed away while

suffering from bronchopneumonia after a short illness on 6th August 2001. He is survived

by his own family, composed of the families of his son and daughter, and two siblings and their families.


Emeritus Professor Shan S. Ratnam will be remembered with admiration and love by


his relatives, friends, colleagues and patients alike.


R. N. V. Prasad, MD, DSc, FRCOG


Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, National University of Singapore


P. C. Wong, FRCOG,

Associate Professor & Head,

Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, National University of Singapore



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