By Dr B. J. C. Perera
MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL)
Specialist Consultant Paediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.
In a most disturbing development, it has been brought to the notice of the nation that the Suwaseriya 1990 Ambulance Service is in imminent danger of having to restrict its services due to a severe curtailment of the financial facilities extended to it by the government. We have it on reasonable evidence that the service is even likely to keel over in the not-too-distant future.
This life-saving initiative, which commenced operations around six years ago, amidst all kinds of problems and predictions of doom, together with allegations of the incompetence of those manning the service, has proven itself to be a real boon as regards the provision of optimal emergency healthcare services in our country. The facility has been utilised to provide life-saving care to sudden health emergencies brought on by many disease conditions, an unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters, as well as road traffic crashes. Emergency care provided by those who man the service as para-medical staff, together with supporting staff working in the control centres including qualified medical personnel to provide emergency care guidance, have played a leading role in saving lives with absolutely no regard whatsoever being paid at the point of care provision, to caste, creed, religion or the financial status of those in desperate need of these services. To the eternal credit of this magnificent enterprise, all that has mattered to them is a committed effort towards saving lives and getting the affected patients to a healthcare facility as fast as possible. Life-saving and life-sustaining emergency measures are instituted at the site and in the ambulance itself, in a dedicated struggle to fight for the lives of those who urgently and terribly need such care. Very many are the many affected patients who have lived to tell the tale due to the valiant efforts of those who run this service.
Since its inception and launch in 2016, Suwaseriya has responded to over 1.15 million calls through the toll-free telephone line 1990. Currently, it handles over 1000 emergency calls per day from right around the country and at the height of the pandemic last year it had to handle over 2000 calls per day. The service has a staff of over 1300 and close to 300 fully-equipped ambulances in its fleet, covering the entire length and breadth of the country. The average response time from the receipt of the call through 1990 to the arrival at the site of the incident is just under 15 minutes. This could of course vary from just under 3 minutes to around 15 to 20 minutes depending on the distance of the incident from the centre where the ambulances are located.
It must be stressed that it costs a considerable amount of money to provide such a service in a sustained manner every minute of every day. It certainly does not come cheap. Apparently, in the year 2021 it cost around Sri Lankan Rupees 6500 per-incident and this year in 2022, due to rampant inflation, it has shot up to around LKR 8500 per incident. In strictly financial terms, the government has to allocate a sum of around LKR 140 per person per year for the total populace of around 22 million persons, to be able to provide such a magnificent 24/7 service to the general public. It certainly would sound like a paltry sum and a small price to pay but in effect, it works out to quite a few million per year at the going rate this year. Currently, Suwaseriya probably needs around 100 MILLION RUPEES PER MONTH to run the service efficiently. This amount includes salaries, overtime payments, maintenance costs of the ambulances, price of disposable medical equipment, cost of medicines etc.
These large amounts of money have to be provided by the powers-that-be to sustain this service. The problem now is that due to the current economic turndown of the country, the state has been forced to even cut down on the financial provisions for this absolutely essential service. As a result of this, the Suwaseria service has run up considerable debts to its subsidiary service providers and suppliers. It is rumoured that the service owes the suppliers something to the tune of around 150 million rupees as of now. It is most unlikely that these suppliers are going to tolerate this for any further length of time and the chances are that they would stop giving anything anymore on a credit basis, even absolutely essential medicines, sooner rather than later. Then the service will be caught between the devil and the deep blue sea as well as a catch-22 situation, with the inevitable outcome of having to restrict the provision of their much-valued and much-needed emergency services. God help us then and lives are going to be lost in the process. It will be yet another national catastrophe of considerable proportions. The people who would suffer most would be the poor and the marginalised, as the rich, as is usually the case anyway, will somehow find a way to have their way.
Having worked closely with the Suwaseriya service through the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) Doc Call 247 portal, I did feel the need to do it. I know for sure the type of service provided by this wonderful Suwaseriya 1990 initiative. I have seen the results first-hand and have been amazed at the dedication of the people who give their very best to save lives.
In such a context, this is a fervent appeal to the government to provide the necessary finances and maintain this excellent service provision initiative at any cost without allowing it to sink into the abyss of yet another venture that has sadly failed. Our men, women and children in this so-called resplendent isle have already suffered and continue to suffer much more than their fair share of grief through no real fault of theirs. The last thing they need at this juncture of destiny is yet another burden that would threaten their lives. The state has to…, SIMPLY HAS TO, find ways and means of keeping this vital service provider afloat. Even if it means that the state has to tax the super-rich, even if they have to do it until they bleed, even if it means cutting off some privileges for some in the highest echelons of power, so be it. Metaphorically speaking, if such blood-letting or curtailment of privileges would mean the saving of countless lives, it would be well worth it. Most definitely, it would be an initiative that would earn resounding encomiums from the suffering masses.
Glimmers of hope?
Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?
What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.
‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.
‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.
‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.
‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.
‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.
Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.
Heartfelt hope of the many
The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”
Still utterly hopeless
Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.
Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.
Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.
Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis
By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse
(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)
There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.
The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.
1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.
2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.
3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!
4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.
Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains
We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened
1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.
2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.
3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.
4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.
Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.
1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.
2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible
3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:
Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.
Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.
Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.
Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.
Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.
Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.
Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.
Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.
1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers
All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.
The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of
India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and
There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.
Thomians triumph in Sydney
Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.
Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!
who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:
The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.
Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.
But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.
Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.
A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.
Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.
A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.
The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.
Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.
The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts. But the Thomians had other ideas.
The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable. Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.
It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.
Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.
The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.
In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.
Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.
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