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COVID-19: Advice of Singer and others

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I read with amazement the attempt by the Resident UN coordinator in Sri Lanka, Ms. Hanna Singer, to take over the job of advising the Sri Lankan government about the safety of burial of Covid infected bodies. In addition, she is trying to offer advice on the political fallout from it to a veteran politician like Mahinda Rajapaksa!

One thinks of the donkey who took over the dog’s job, as retold in Aesop’s Fables. Ms. Singer hangs on the claim that the WHO has made a statement regarding the matter! Why has Ms Singer’s equivalent in USA kept shut instead of advising President Trump about the need to follow the directives of the WHO which are in fact in agreement with those of the Head of Disease control in the US, namely, Dr. Fauci?

The WHO has certainly NOT conducted any field experiments regarding the matter in the context of Sri Lanka. Furthermore, The Health Ministry officials are evidently in close communication with the WHO officials who have even congratulated the Sri Lankan Health authorities for their excellent management of Covid cases. Even with the second wave, Sri Lanka so far has 61 deaths for a population of 22 million, while Bangladesh, which allows burial of corpses, has 1.33 MILLION people dead, for a population of 161 million. If Sri Lanka had followed Bangladesh in proportion to the population, there should have been 182,000 deaths in Sri Lanka and not just 61. Let us look at Ms Singer’s own country, Egypt, another predominantly Muslim country with a population of 98 million. It has also suffered 1.34 MILLION deaths! Religious rights have over-arched health regulations in many countries, while in some countries like the US, some states or regions with strongly orthodox religious belief systems have had higher incidences of the Epidemic.

Ms. Singer is not the only person who has come forward to advise the public. Some have even marketed all kinds of medications that are claimed to boost the immunity of those who take the “medications”. Ms. Senanayake, a lady who is supposed be able to communicate with God Natha, and her team claim to have formulated an inhalation (“dum hattiya”) as well as a leafy broth (“kola Kaenda”) that are claimed to not only prevent Covid-19, but to even cure it in three days. Of course, NO randomized double-blind trials that prove the claim are offered. One must be careful to note that Minister Jayasumana, now in charge of pharmaceuticals, was at one time a follower of Ms. Senanayake.

Sisira Jayakodi, Minister of Indigenous Medicine Promotion, claims that his ministry has “developed” several Ayurvedic drugs to treat COVID-19 and also for the people who are at greater risk of contracting the virus. “Sadanga Panaya” and “Suwadarani Immunising Drink”, are said to be two drugs “developed” using completely local herbs. They are said to be “immunity boosters”. However, there is not a word about how these drugs were tested and shown to be effective! They were just “developed”!

The Ayurvedic doctors and the Nath Deviyo followers can at least say that they don’t practice medicine that is purely based on empirical investigations. They claim to depend on the revelations and writings of the “ancient Rishis” and “traditional wisdom”- whatever that may be! If you ask them about what this “immunity” is, that is being “boosted”, they offer no clear mechanism.

But Dr. Stanley Weeraratne, a retired agricultural scientist is clearly not going on the authority of ancient Rishis. He has written to The Island Newspaper (17-11-20) asking the public to take “Vitamin D to increase immunity to COVID-19”.

Dr. Weeraratne tells us that “among the many things to be done to avoid COVID 19 is to boost immunity. Vitamin D is considered to increase the immunity to virus diseases. Exposing to direct sunlight for 30 to 45 minutes between 9.30 am and mid-day would generate an adequate amount of vitamin D to boost immunity. Several publications on Vitamin D and immunity are in a number of websites”.

But NO randomized trials, or even authenticated (even if limited) clinical trials exit, to show that Vitamin D “Vitamin D to increase immunity to COVID-19”.

Exposing oneself to the sun in the manner described can lead to sunburn unless you have regularly worked in the sun and acquired a sufficiently dark skin when Vitamin-D production as well as the risk of sunburn drops. There may exist dozens of publications in websites, including not only on Vitamin D, but even suggesting drinking Cow Urine, as boosting immunity, but those claims are as worthless as the usual mis-information found in the internet.

Immunity is produced by T-cells and antibodies that have been formed during past infections, and now recognize any new attacks by those previous diseases. Good health and adequate Vitamins can help maintain the already acquired immunity intact. But a new virus cannot be fought using the T-cells and antibodies made for those previous infections. Hence, until the body gets the T-cells and antibodies that can recognize and attack the new virus, no amount of immunity boosting, no amount of “inguru, koththamalli, vishnu-kraanthi” etc., can help against the new virus. That is why knowledgeable scientists are working hard to make NEW vaccines against the NEW virus. So, people who talk of “boosting the immune system” are simply vague myth makers.

I invite Dr. Weeraratne to explain why this immunity that he claims can be acquired using Vitamin D has no effect on Dengue and other viral diseases that affect the tropics. Here people work in fields for most of the day, often bare-bodies, wearing only a loin cloth and perhaps a “Jataava” to cover the head.

I invite Dr. Weeraratne to explain why this immunity did not protect local populations that work in the sun – be they in Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, from polio, chicken pox, small pox, HIV, common flu etc., all these being viral diseases.

Or is he claiming that Vitamin D has a specifically powerful ability to prevent Covid-19 but not Dengue etc? If so, can he provide some reliable clinical evidence for this utterly unsubstantiated claim? Just saying that the evidence is there in some publications and websites is not enough. That suggest a surprisingly uncritical and dangerous approach to an extremely important matter – dealing with an Epidemic.Bodhi Dhanapala(A retired lecturer who worked in Technical Colleges (CEGEP, Ecole Polytechnique) in Quebec, Canada.)

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Opinion

Hector Francis Campbell Fernando

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A tribute to a father on his 110th birth anniversary

When my youngest brother, Gihan (GAF), as a boy of six years, was interviewed by Canon R. S. De Saram, the Warden, S. Thomas’ College Mount. Lavinia, prior to his admission to the College, and when he was asked what his father’s profession was, he had replied, ‘ He is a glass maker’. The Warden like many other members of the community had got his ’glasses’ from his one-time student, HFC, and knew what the boy was talking about. My father found this most amusing and related this to many friends and relatives. He knew that to many people he was indeed, simply a ‘glass maker’!

He was the first Ceylonese to qualify as an optician in the United Kingdom. He returned to Sri Lanka just before the second World War broke out. Until then this was a profession which was dominated by British nationals. Many young men who wished to be trained in the field of optometry, were apprenticed under him and went on to become big names in their chosen field. He never considered himself a businessman and refused to set up his own optical business. He considered himself a professional and was very proud of his profession. Kindness and skill, care and attention marked his service to his clients.

He established the Ceylon Optometrists Association, and became its founder president. The main purpose of this Association was to further the professionalism and standards of those in this field of work. The Association, I understand continues its good work even today.

My father and his four brothers attended S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. His love for Physics and optics in particular, he attributed to his beloved teacher Dr. R.L.Haymen, who went on to become the founder headmaster of S. Thomas’ Gurutalawa.

Born on 26th November 1910, he returned to his Maker on the 17th June 1962. It was too soon. I was just 15 and I had two brothers who were younger, and this was a time in our life when we would have really liked a father to be around. Both my sisters had left school, and one had just got into university, and all five of us found ourselves making huge adjustments to meet a situation that we had not imagined in our wildest dreams. But it was our mother who was devastated by the loss of a devoted husband. A teacher who never took any leave, she could not get back to work for over four weeks, such was the effect of this loss.

He was a wonderful father, who set high standards for us. Not once had he ever raised his hand against any of his children. Even when it came to simple things like how you dress, he insisted on standards, I had once slackened my tie knot and unbuttoned the collar button, (I was only 14), he saw me and he told us the story of how he had done this at school (those were days when senior boys wore tie to school), and his teacher, who also taught me English, Mr. V.P. Cooke, had made him stand in front of the class and told the other students, “Look at this chap, he is neither a loafer nor a gentleman’. The lesson was learnt.

Next to his profession his other love was the YMCA. He was a loyal member of the Colombo Association, and many were the occasions when we as a family trooped into the YMCA building for functions involving the family. He took a special interest in the Y’s Men’s Club of the Colombo YMCA. This was the service arm of the ‘Y’. At the time of his death he was serving his fourth term as President. He was held in very high esteem by all those with whom he associated, and I can do no better than to quote from an appreciation written by the then General Secretary of the Colombo YMCA, Mr. Lennie Wijesinghe, soon after his death.

“Hector is dead and with his death we of the Association have lost a loyal Active Member and a sincere friend. Our Y’s Men’s Club has suffered even a greater loss for he was its President. It was under his leadership that the Club achieved its present status in Y’ sdom. He carried himself with dignity wherever he went. It was not a cold dignity but one which was surrounded by the inimitable charm of a friendly personality. Indeed, this was one remarkable characteristic of the man. Nobody meeting him for the first time could think of him as a stranger. It would be correct to say that in such circumstances one was more inclined to look upon him as a dear friend. Such was the impelling force of the love that throbbed in him. Hector never gave himself airs. Simplicity was the very essence of his nature. And yet it was not of the ordinary variety, rather was it one springing from the depths of a kindly disposition. Nor was his spirit of service limited. It reached out to others wherever the need arose.”

May his soul rest in peace!

 

Eksith Fernando

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Opinion

Budget 2021: Need for ‘National Reading’

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Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, presented the nation’s 75th Budget, for the Year 2021, to Parliament, last week. Now we can witness different interpretations of the budget from economists, the business community, academics and representatives of civil society. Some argue, with their expertise in economics, and some can be seen with their understanding of society. Moreover, it can be seen that certain elements read this budget with their political ideology. Anyway, this is the time that Sri Lanka needs “National Reading” of the Budget.

This Budget is unique for a few reasons. First we need to “read” this by focusing on the current pandemic situation. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts Sri Lanka’s economy to shrink 4.6% this Year. This can be seen as the same as other countries. In May 2020, the Asian Development Bank announced that COVID‐19 could cost the global economy between $5.8 and $8.8 trillion.

And also, we should not forget the “Easter Sunday attack” which severely affected the economy of the country last year. Refer below for ‘’Reuters reports” on 18 September 2019.

“Sri Lanka’s economy grew at its slowest pace, in more than five years from April to June, government data showed on Wednesday, as the Easter Sunday bomb attacks that killed over 250 people hit the island nation’s fastest-growing tourism sector. Accommodation, food and beverage service activities, which have been rapidly growing due to high tourist influx, fell 9.9% in the June quarter, compared to the same period a year ago.”

So, it is clear that the Sri Lankan economy is experiencing a “double blow” unlike other countries. There is a need for people to understand this situation. This is the time when people need to have a “National Reading” for the budget. Interestingly Dr. W.A Wijewardena, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of SriLanka, has vividly elaborated this context in his article titled “Budget 2021: Gota’s Third War, but forgive me, it is our war, too”. Accordingly, Wijewardena argued that ‘’Sri Lanka is at war today and it is Gota’s Third War. But it is not his war alone; it is our war too. We all should fight it with vigour, rigor, perseverance, and determination. The whole nation should help Gota by working harder, two or three times harder than before, to take the country out of the present economic malaise. That is the only source of progress. Without that, the Budget 2021 will only be another document with no practical relevance.” Hence there is a need for everyone to understand the real situation of the country.

People in this country need to understand this crisis. We did not expect either the Easter Sunday attack or Covid-19, which have done much damage to people and to the country as a whole. Now the time has come to get together as one nation and work towards the betterment of the country. Hence there is a need for everyone to “read” this Budget 2021, with the interest of the nation.

 

Professor NALIN ABEYSEKERA

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Opinion

Alternatives in the Transition from Capitalism

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Sumanasiri Liyanage (“Transcending Capital-Labour Relation:A Note on Social Entrepreneurship”, 10 November) makes an interesting point about “social enterprises”, co-operatives, worker-co-operatives and the like.

He argues that structurally, many of these enterprises are bureaucratic, and that “many social enterprises, having failed to make sociality their ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ characteristics, show a tendency for degeneration, putting aside their social characteristics and creating a strong permanent bureaucratic apparatus. The main concern of this bureaucratic apparatus is not profit, as in private enterprises, but ‘income’ as a revenue.”

There is a great deal of truth in what he says. In a capitalist system, social enterprises, by their very need to exist in that milieu, must look to profit. Indeed, as one participant in a recent online conference of worker-co-ops in the USA commented to me, they seem to be more concerned in their engagement with the capitalist system, rather than with expanding a socially-owned economy.

“Yes, I see the emphasis on ‘income’,” my informant tells me, “especially here as initial funding for co-ops,etc., comes from non-profit foundations that emphasise ‘entrepreneurship,’ also ‘social enterprise’ is just seen as for profits with some social mission, either corporate ‘responsibility’ or community contributions, or a social service abandoned by the State.”

However, exceptions to this rule do exist. My informant, who consults for worker-co-ops in the US, thinks that these are more concerned with social issues than with mere profit, although they do realise the need for surplus income, in order to survive and expand. Exemplifying this attitude, the newly-formed Rhode Island Political Co-operative, which won democratic primaries, as well as seven seats in the state’s General Assembly, and two city council seats, campaigned on socio-economic issues, such as a $15 minimum wage, the Green New Deal, single-payer healthcare, criminal justice reform, affordable housing, quality public education, immigrant rights, and getting money out of politics.

Liyanage should look at the problem as a Marxist. Historically, social change has taken place through the resolution of internal contradictions, but has been accompanied by the establishment of institutions which pre-figure the next social stage. In Hegelian terms, the transformation of quantity into quality.

In Europe, the transition from slavery to serfdom did not take place in a vacuum. For example, serf-based production emerged within the slave-holding Roman Empire, the collapse of which caused the transition to feudalism. Similarly, bourgeois institutions, such as banks and manufacturing concerns emerged in feudal society: joint-stock companies appeared (stillborn in the first millennium in China) in the 13th century in Europe. These proliferated within pre-capitalist societies, laying a transformative foundation until a cusp was reached, and the bourgeoisie seized power, carrying out a metamorphosis of economy, society and polity.

One could, realistically, expect a similar mechanism to occur prior to a transition to socialism. Indeed, the USSR, during the “New Economic Policy” period, encouraged the establishment of worker-co-ops and farmer-co-ops. Lenin believed that co-operatives, particularly producer-co-ops, held the key to building a socialist society. He wrote in 1923 (“On co-operatives”, Pravda, 26-27 May 1923) that the only task left was “to organise the population in co-operative societies.”

Apart from farmer collectives, Lenin also encouraged “Big Bill” Haywood, the US trade unionist, to set up the Kuzbass Autonomous Industrial Colony, which brought together American and European workers with Soviet ones in a giant worker-co-op: dissolved, unfortunately, in 1926. Hence, co-operatives, and particularly producer co-operatives, are part of the practical Marxist tradition.

The “father of socialism in Sri Lanka”, Philip Gunawardena, encouraged the creation of multi-purpose co-operative societies (MPCSs), both for the promotion of collective activity, and as potential units of rural democracy. During the 1970-75 United Front Government, several farmer co-operatives emerged in Sri Lanka, as well as a handful of worke-co-operatives (notably a steel-making co-op in Moratuwa). So the tradition exists on the Sri Lankan Left as well.

Of course, producer-co-ops by themselves cannot, as utopian socialists such as Robert Owen and Charles Fourier imagined, guarantee the transition to socialism (any more than the emergence of capitalist enterprises in pre-capitalist societies ensured the success of the bourgeois revolution). As both Marx and Lenin pointed out, the necessary condition for this transition lies in the class struggle.

However, these institutions may prove to be essential allies in the class struggle – their very existence contradicts the bourgeois idea of private property, as against collective property. “Under private capitalism,” Lenin pointed out, “co-operative enterprises differ from capitalist enterprises as collective enterprises differ from private enterprises.”

 

Marx (in his ‘Inaugural Address of the International Working Men’s Association”) had this to say about workers’ co-operatives:

“The value of these great social experiments cannot be overrated. By deed instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large scale, and in accord with the behests of modern science, may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands; that to bear fruit, the means of labour need not be monopolised as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the labouring man himself; and that, like slave labour, like serf labour, hired labour is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labour plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart.”

On a practical level, the burgeoning Latin American “Solidarity Economy” movement has attempted to build alternatives to capitalist institutions, challenging capitalist property relations, as part and parcel of a class-based revolutionary process. Hence, rather than merely condemning actually existing worker co-ops as bureaucratically degenerated, commercialised enterprises, it may be more constructive to regard them as part of the solution to a transition from capitalism, and consider how these institutions may be reformed, structurally and ideologically, from within.

SAVITHRI GURUGE

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