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Bridging the Gaps: The COVID-19 crisis and Sri Lanka’s healthcare response



By Priyanka Jayawardena

Like many other countries, Sri Lanka faces numerous challenges in the battle against COVID-19. The pandemic has caused deep uncertainty and presented a colossal challenge for the country’s healthcare system. With the rapid increase in cases and the emergence of new variants, Sri Lanka began to face shortages of medical resources, including hospital beds and medical equipment.

The vaccination programme was beset with a host of problems early on due to the irregular and inconsistent supply of vaccines, disorganised deployment and deviation from the scientifically agreed prioritisation. There was also alleged misreporting of COVID-19 daily statistics in the Gampaha district and Eastern Province. The absence of real-time data acted as a hindrance to obtain a reliable risk assessment in the country. Against this backdrop, this blog examines the gaps in the ongoing pandemic control programme and outlines ways to bridge these gaps so that more lives could be saved from COVID-19.

COVID-19 Vaccination Programme

By mid-August 2021, more than 12 million Sri Lankans (55% of the population) had been vaccinated with at least the first dose. Other than the delayed supply of vaccines, there were issues related to getting approval for vaccine use and the vaccination prioritisation process. Moreover, many people were seen queuing up at vaccination centres aggravating health risks due to the lack of a properly planned system for vaccine deployment and the lack of an online appointment system. More recently, the government has taken several measures to improve the rollout, including expediting the procurement process and improving administration with the support of the defence services.

Gaps in Pandemic Control

Sri Lanka’s rate of COVID-19 screening has remained inadequate to prevent the spread of the virus. Systematic surveillance is crucial for the rapid identification and detection of suspected COVID-19 cases. With newer variants found to be more transmissible and deadlier, there is a need to identify mutants and track the nature of transmission. Currently, the University of Sri Jayewardenepura is the only institution equipped with laboratory facilities to conduct genomic sequencing to identify new variants.

Countries like Singapore, New Zealand and Australia systematically monitor the pandemic through extensive testing and contact tracing. These countries are conducting 10-100 times more tests than other countries with a similar number of new confirmed cases. Sri Lanka’s extent of testing relative to the scale of the outbreak (positive rate was around 10%), is on par with Thailand and Malaysia but lower than India, Vietnam and Cambodia where the positive rate is below 5%.

Further, a major challenge to the existing healthcare system is inadequate ICU beds, ventilators, oxygen supplies and other necessities required to care for patients with severe respiratory failure. The availability of ICU capacity plays a crucial role in critical cases, and constant and uninterrupted availability of oxygen supplied beds is needed to avert a disaster. Currently, less than 200 ICU beds are in isolation units for patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms, whereas just around 700 ICU beds are available in the hospital system of the entire country.

Equally, it is vital to have timely access to real-time data so that meaningful insights can be drawn but due to capacity constraints and administrative issues, PCR test results are reported to be delayed. In some districts, the delays are said to be longer than one week. Thus, delays in generating test results are a grave concern and represent a major obstacle in the COVID-19 control process. There is a growing need for immediate and accessible healthcare and digital healthcare resources to effectively respond to the challenges posed by COVID-19. However, Sri Lanka’s health information systems are weak and under-funded and the lack of an adequate central health database and IT infrastructure has hampered digital health services.

Towards a Stronger Healthcare Response

The healthcare system has to be streamlined to ensure a successful vaccination deployment and a smooth inoculation programme with online appointments including over the phone appointment facilities. Parallel to an efficient vaccination programme, an enhanced screening capacity is needed for the rapid identification of COVID-19 cases. Sri Lanka’s overall COVID-19 screening capacity remains low; therefore, expanding testing and increasing the health sector’s capacity to identify new mutants is vital to curb the pandemic. Random PCR testing too must be carried out in densely populated areas which are prone to be contagious, thereby taking additional precautionary measures.

There is a growing concern about the availability of medical supplies in emergency contexts. Sri Lanka has to effectively leverage its limited resources in response to the pandemic. The crisis response has seen local innovation in the manufacturing of ICU beds and lab consumables and there is further scope to encourage local enterprise and innovation for this purpose. For instance, a team of Sri Lankan scientists recently invented a new PCR test kit using NANO technology, which is said to drastically reduce the testing time from two hours to half an hour. There is now an opportunity to encourage local innovation and local production through such efforts, where they contribute to efficiency gains.

Furthermore, a robust laboratory strategy, which includes laboratory networking, communicating real-time information on COVID-19, quality assurance and adequate workforce capacity is important for rapid detection and case management. South Korea, for example, practised the disclosure of real-time information on COVID-19 by the government via dedicated websites, mass media, phone messages and mobile apps. Digitalisation of healthcare and effective use of technology for sharing real-time data, contact tracing and surveillance and coordinating the efficient use of clinical resources are vital for successful pandemic control. It is also necessary to improve systems to manage real-time data and decision-support systems. Improved functional integration and coordination in treatment centres and laboratory services bring in many benefits.

*This blog is based on the comprehensive chapter on “Coping with Pandemics: Sri Lanka’s Healthcare System” in IPS’ forthcoming ‘Sri Lanka: State of the Economy 2021’ report.

Link to original blog:

Priyanka Jayawardena is a Research Economist at the Institute of Policy Studies. Her research interests include education and skills development, labour economics, inequality analysis, health economics and child nutrition. She holds a BSc (Hon) in Statistics and an MA in Economics from the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. (Talk to Priyanka –

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Cabinet approves rationalization of VAT exemptions and abolition of SVAT System




The Cabinet of Ministers granted concurrence to the resolution forwarded by the Minister of Finance, Economic Stabilization and National Policies to remove most of the releases from Value Added Tax (VAT), further retaining releases that ease the pressure on low – income families to secure the fundamental sectors of the economy as well as the releases for sectors such as education, health and agriculture, as well as to revise the provisions applicable for the Value Added Tax (VAT) act so that the Simplified Value Added Tax (SVAT) methodology can be canceled with effect from 01.01.2024 by introducing a more formal methodology for repaying the Value Added Tax (VAT) and to instruct the Legal Draftsman to prepare a draft bill for the purpose.

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Venora Lanka Power Panels to set up assembly plant in Australia



Sagara Gunawardene

By Hiran H.Senewiratne

Sri Lanka- based, export- oriented manufacturer, Venora Lanka Power Panels (Pvt) Ltd, with a state of the art electric panel factory at the Export Processing Zone, Biyagama, will set up an assembly plant in Australia.

“Once we set up the electric panel assembly plant in Australia, we will export all our panels from Sri Lanka and that plant will do 30 percent value addition to the product to supply that market, the company’s chairman/ Managing Director, engineer Sagara Gunawardena told The Island Financial Review.

Gunawardena said that the company is a value- addition assembly plant and he would be investing AUS $ 2 million for the project to be set up in Melbourne and hire 100 engineers and other professionals. He explained that the venture has enormous potential.

Venora Lanka provides power panels to mega projects in Sri Lanka and exports to Bangladesh, Maldives, Kenya, Ethiopia, Seychelles and Myanmar. Panel assembling is strictly in compliance with IEC 61439 standards, it was explained.

Gunawardena added: ‘I firmly believe that, being a truly customer focused organization, every employee and every process in the organization has to be aligned behind delighting customers. Therefore, at a time when the country is facing a major dollar crisis, my company would be aiming at bringing dollars into the country, while providing employment for local professionals, especially engineers.

‘At Venora Lanka we do not try to change customers’ mindsets. Instead, we take time to understand what they really want and focus our brand on delivering that. Venora is values- driven first and cost- driven second – creating a unique brand proposition.

‘Since the US dollar rate has come down, it is our concern that importers and suppliers do not change their prices, which is really affecting the manufacturing sector.

Company sources added: ‘The company has several wings of operation, such as local and overseas projects, switch board assembling, telecommunication infrastructure installations, earthing, lighting and surge protection, incorporating world renowned brands.

‘Venora Lanka Power Panels is the first Sri Lankan company to receive the licence, in accordance with the UK Trade Mark Act 1994, to use the trade mark “Best Enterprise”. It won a global award at the event, ‘Golden Awards for Quality and Business Prestige’, held in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2015.

‘Within a short span of time, with the perfect blend of progressive thinking and expertise, Venora Group has expanded to consist of, Venora International Projects, Venora Telecom, Venora Industrial Solutions and Venora Lanka Power Panels (BOI approved). Further, Venora has established its overseas presence through Venora Engineering Kenya and Venora Engineering Myanmar.’

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Share market moves into positive territory; indices up



By Hiran H. Senewiratne

CSE trading got off to a positive note yesterday but during the last session of the day the momentum slowed. However, the market is now moving towards positive territory following the Central Bank announcement of a downward trend in interest rates, market analysts said.

Amid those developments the market witnesses improvements in both indices and in the turnover.

The All- Share Price Index up by 12.8 points and S and P SL 20 rose by 6.97 points. Turnover stood at Rs 710 million with one crossing. The crossing was reported in JKH which crossed 430,000 shares to the tune of Rs 60.2 million; its shares traded at Rs 140.

In the retail market top seven companies that mainly contributed to the turnover were; JKH Rs 212 million (1.5 million shares traded), Access Engineering Rs 44.7 million ( three million shares traded), Lanka IOC Rs 34.5 million (264,000 shares traded), Browns Investments Rs 28.6 million (5.3 million shares traded), LOLC Finance Rs 23.8 million (4.7 million shares traded), Capital Alliance Rs 22.9 million (615,000 shares traded) and First Capital Holdings Rs 19.2 million (574,000 shares traded). During the day the 31.4 million shares volumes changed hands in 9000 transactions.

Yesterday, the Central Bank’s US dollar buying rate was Rs 285.16 and the selling rate Rs 298.85.

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