Our History- Our Story

The year 1959 marks the establishment of the Epidemiology Unit of Sri Lanka with the primary aim of improving public health through the collation, interpretation, and provision of the best possible information on communicable diseases. The initiation of the unit was supported by the World Health Organization. The operations were initially carried out by a Medical Officer qualified in public health in collaboration with a  public health consultant from the WHO. In 1961 the first Epidemiologist was appointed. The Unit was housed along with the Public Health Veterinary Services and the Medical Statistics Unit at Chelsea Gardens, Colombo 03.

In 1967, the unit was further strengthened by the appointment of two other assistant Epidemiologists who were trained in the field of Epidemiology. As the organization took its roots deeper, Regional Epidemiologists were appointed to two peripheral health divisions, namely Kalutara and Kurunegala. Appointing Regional Epidemiologists to all regional health divisions was a challenge at the time due to the scarcity of officers opting for the field of public health. The next regions to be covered by the service of Regional Epidemiologists were Jaffna, Vavuniya, and thereafter, Kandy.

Colombo region was served by an assistant Epidemiologist from the Epidemiology Unit. Another assistant Epidemiologist from the Unit was assigned to non-communicable disease epidemiology.

In the early 1970s, the Unit was shifted to the Ministry of Health premises.

In 1975, a public health bacteriologist with postgraduate qualifications in bacteriology as well as in public health was appointed to the Unit. This officer was attached to the Infectious Diseases Hospital and the Lady Ridgeway Children's Hospital in Colombo, but worked as a member of the Epidemiology Unit team and was involved in outbreak investigations and special epidemiological studies. However, this post was suppressed following the retirement of this officer in the early eighties.

In February 1986, the Epidemiology Unit was relocated to the present building at 231, De Seram Place, Colombo 10, which also houses the Family Health Bureau.

In 1995, the cadre allocated to the Unit was revised and the total number of Medical Officers was increased to 13. This number included two senior administrative grade officers and eight specialist grade officers. In addition, it was planned to appoint Regional Epidemiologists to all Districts and Provincial Epidemiologists to the Provinces. All 26 Regional Director of Health Services divisions are now served by a Regional Epidemiologist.

In the midst of formidable hurdles including nearly thirty years of civil unrest (1983-2009), and the COVID -19 pandemic (2020-2022), the Unit was still able to sustain its immunization and surveillance activities which lead to many significant accomplishments. Eradication of smallpox, eradication of poliomyelitis, and elimination of measles, rubella, and congenital tetanus, highlight some of the important achievements of the unit despite of the hard times.

Over the years since 1959, the Unit has been steered by Chief Epidemiologists, the first being Dr. P. Arumaynayagam (1959-1967). From its modest beginnings, the institution has evolved to become the country’s focal point for handling communicable disease surveillance, epidemiological investigations, research, and training. Among its’ responsibilities, National Program of Immunization Program is one of the major tasks of the Epidemiology Unit and is frequently quoted as a successful and a cost-effective public health intervention in the country.

At present, the Unit functions with a full cadre ten Consultant Epidemiologists and thirteen medical officer posts headed by the acting Chief Epidemiologist, Dr. Samitha Ginige. It is one of the major operating components of the Ministry of Health, and is recognized by the region for its’ dedicated work towards the control and prevention of communicable diseases in the country.


Chief Epidemiologists


Dr. P. Arumaynayagam           1959-1967

Dr. N.P.M Mendis                   1967-1976

Dr. P.U. de la Motte                1976-1980

Dr. A.V.K.V de Silva              1980-1986

Dr. R.L. de Sylva                    1986-1991

Dr. (Mrs) W.S. Jayakuru         1991-2000

Dr. T.A. Kulatilake                 2000-2003

Dr. M.R.N. Abeysinghe          2003-2008

Dr. Paba Palihawadana           2008-2016

Dr. Sudath Samaraweera        2019-2021

Introduction of HPV vaccine to the National Program of immunization in July, 2017