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As deadly surge of COVID-19 sweeps across South Asia, UNICEF calls for $164 million to help save lives

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KATHMANDU – UNICEF urgently requires $164 million to procure oxygen and testing supplies, medical equipment, personal protective equipment and infection prevention and control material to help save lives amid a deadly wave of COVID-19 across South Asia.

The region, home to almost two billion people, accounts for half of known new infections globally. Over three new COVID-19 infections are being recorded every second. Mortality in the region is rising sharply, with more than three people dying every minute due to COVID-19.

“The sheer scale and speed of this new surge of COVID-19 is outstripping countries’ abilities to provide life-saving treatment,” said George Laryea-Adjei, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia.

“Hospitals are overwhelmed, there is an acute lack of oxygen and other critical medical supplies, and there is a real risk of fragile health systems collapsing.”

During the first wave of the pandemic, an estimated 228,000 children and 11,000 mothers across South Asia died due to severe disruptions in essential health services. “We’re now looking at a surge that is four times the size of the first. We need to do everything within our power to prevent and treat COVID-19, while keeping the critical health care services that children and mothers so heavily depend on running,” Laryea-Adjei said.

On May 18, India recorded the highest number of daily deaths ever in the history of the COVID-19 pandemic: 4,529. Neighboring Nepal has experienced case positivity rates as high as 47 per cent; Sri Lanka and the Maldives are recording new highs in COVID-19 cases and deaths on a daily basis; and hospitals in the capital of the Maldives are reaching full capacity.

Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bhutan could all face similar devastating surges. In almost all countries in the region, with the exception of the Maldives and Bhutan, fewer than 1 in 10 people have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

The funding requirement includes:

• $32 million for oxygen equipment including on-site oxygen-generating plants for hospitals, portable oxygen concentrators and cylinders

• $40 million for medical and diagnostic equipment including RT-PCR and RNA extraction machines

• $60 million for masks, face shields, gloves, gowns, visors, and other personal protective equipment needed to keep health & frontline workers safe

• $28 million for infection prevention and control including handwashing stations, sanitizer, autoclaves, laundry machines and hygiene supplies required to deliver essential health care safely

• $3.7 million for therapeutics and medical supplies, including nutrition support and consumables.

The critical health supplies will not only save lives, but also help build stronger health-care systems across South Asia ahead of potential future waves of the pandemic. In addition, the supplies will also be used to strengthen healthcare services for women and children: improving access to oxygen therapy can directly contribute to fighting childhood pneumonia in the region, and RT-PCR test machines that identify COVID-19 can also help detect TB, HIV, HPV and streptococcus.

“This deadly surge in South Asia threatens to reverse global gains against the COVID-19 pandemic and roll back hard-earned progress on child and maternal survival,” Laryea-Adjei said. “We’re asking for support to help make sure this doesn’t happen.”

In addition to delivering life-saving COVID-19 supplies, UNICEF’s COVID-19 response in South Asia also includes:

• reaching families with information and resources to prevent infection and building vaccine confidence;

• increasing access to safe water and sanitation;

• cash assistance for the most vulnerable families;

• supporting efforts to keep children learning, including through engaging the public and private sectors; and

• providing mental health and protection support for children and young people directly affected by the pandemic.



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Debt-ridden CEB goes ahead with shocking pay hike amidst pandemic

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Workers offered 25% increase this year…12% annually over three-year period
 

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Two days after the Presidential Secretariat stated that the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) owed two state banks––Bank of Ceylon and the People’s Bank, a staggering Rs 85 bn, the cash-strapped enterprise announced an annual 12 percent salary increase to its employees.

Vijitha Herath, Chairman, of the CEB, yesterday (15) said that the salary increase in terms of the collective agreement for 2021-2023 period would enable the workers to receive 25 per cent in the first year whereas annually it would be 12 percent over a period of three years.

The ministry said that in spite of severe difficulties caused by the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic, the salary increment was granted in response to workers’ request.

Declaring that the Cabinet and the Board of Directors of the CEB had approved the salary increase, the ministry has sought cooperation of the CEB trade unions to finalise the collective agreement.

The ministry claimed that CEB workers had been granted a spate of privileges not given to other state sector employees hence consensus on collective agreement was expected soon.

The Presidential Secretariat on Sunday explained that one reason for the banking sector crisis was the failure on the part of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the CEB to settle Rs 562 bn and Rs 85 bn, respectively.

The Presidential Secretariat issued the statement in the wake of SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam, MP, triggering a political storm by demanding Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila’s immediate resignation over recent increase in fuel prices.

The CEB Chairman also claimed that they had been able to bring down the accumulated losses to Rs 56 bn last year from Rs 97 bn in the previous year.

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Indian fishers riled by SL moves to create new fish breeding grounds

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By Dinasena Ratugamage

 

Fishermen from Rameswaran will hold a protest today (16) against Sri Lanka’s decision to submerge 20 old buses in the seas off Jaffna to create breeding grounds for fish.

Members of 17 fisheries associations in Tamil Nadu and Rameswaran claim that this will affect their yield as more fish will be attracted to the breeding grounds created by submerged buses.

The Ministry said that sinking those buses was nothing new and that such buses provided a hard surface for invertebrates to live on, some of which could not live on the sand bottom that is naturally there.

“Some fish are not fast swimmers, so they need a structure to provide both food and shelter; they wouldn’t, for example, be able to outswim a shark, but they could duck into the shelter instead,” a Sri Lankan fisheries association representative said.

However N. Devadas, the head of the Indian fishermen’s association in Rameswaram, said that they would also hand over a petition against that decision to the Sri Lankan government. Sri Lanka has been submerging old SLTB buses in the deep sea for many years as a part of the Deep Sea Fish Development Project.

 

 

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Three more weeks needed to see drop in COVID deaths – Dr. Fernandopulle

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It would take at least three more weeks to see a drop in COVID-19 related deaths in the country, Minister of COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudharshini Fernandopulle said yesterday.

There had been a drop in the number of cases reported already, she said.

“The number of patients is coming down but there has been an increase in deaths. However, this too will come down.

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