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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

Reminiscences of Colombo University Arts Faculty and Library

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Whilst extending my felicitations to the University of Colombo on the centenary celebrations of the Faculty of Arts and the Library of the University, I would like to record my contribution towards these two units as the Registrar of the University.

It was during Prof. Stanley Wijesundera’s tenure as the Vice-Chancellor (VC) in 1980 that the proposals for the buildings in respect of the Chemistry Department, Physics Department, New Administration, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Arts and the Library were mooted and submitted to the Treasury. At that time it was the National Buildings Consortium that assigned the Consultants and the Contractors for the new buildings to be constructed. Within that year the Treasury allocated sufficient funds for the Chemistry, Physics, Faculty of Law and the New Administration buildings. However, no funds were allocated to the Faculty of Arts and only Rs. 7.5 million was allocated for the Library building.

With the funds allocated the Chemistry, Physics, Law Faculty and the new Administration buildings were able to get off the ground. The construction work in respect of the other two buildings could not commence due to non-allocation of sufficient funds, even though the consultants and the contractors and already been selected.

As the Minister of Finance at that time was from Matara, he was more interested in getting the required buildings for the newly established University of Ruhuna completed, which was in his electorate. This meant that the University of Colombo would not get any funds for new buildings other than those buildings where the construction work had already begun.

The university needed a building for the Faculty of Arts very badly as this Faculty had the largest number of students. The Vice-Chancellor requested me to draft a letter to the Minister of Finance. Accordingly, I drafted a letter and submitted to the VC for his signature. He told it was an excellent letter, and he signed without a single amendment and submitted same to the Minister. The Minister approved the releasing of the funds. Now the consultants to the building project studied the area required for the building and found that a small portion of land was necessary from the land of the Planetarium. My efforts to get the land from the person in charge of the Planetarium, the Senior Assistant Secretary and the Secretary himself were not fruitful. I told the VC of the position and that he would have to speak to the Minister in charge of the Planetarium, Mr. Lionel Jayathilaka. He got the Minister on line and addressing him by his first name and informed the Minister of the problem. The Minister immediately got it attended to. However, when the construction work started, they found that the additional land area was not necessary.

At that time, the payments to the consultants of building projects was 15% of the total value of the cost. So, in designing the building they tried to add various unnecessary items to jack up the cost. When the first phase was completed, the building looked monstrous and it was like a maze, as it was difficult to find your way out once you get in. I requested the architect to add some coloured tiles on the floors and the stairway and a few decorations on the walls. The university had a never ending tussle with the contractor as he was like Shylock asking for more, when everything had been paid. He tried various tactics but did not succeed in getting anything more as I was adamant not to give in.

When the second stage of the building project came up, I told the consultant to drop all the unnecessary items and have a straight forward building. This was done by the new contractor at much less cost to the university.

The Library building was the last of the buildings planned in 1980 that was awaiting construction. When Mr. Richard Pathirana became the Minister of Higher Education, I spoke to the two engineers who were assigned the task of supervising the building projects of the universities, and managed to get the funds passed by the Treasury for the construction of the Library building. When the Minister came on a visit to the university, he told me that the building that should have been done for Rs.7.5 million will cost Rs.253 million. I told him that the Treasury never gave any money after approving the initial funding of Rs.7.5 million. Anyway, I had achieved what I wanted to do and the building was successfully completed. Now the furniture for the Library had to be procured. When quotations were called the suucessful tenderer had brought a sample of the study tables. I rejected this as it was inferior to what I wanted and asked the officer concerned to get the design of the furniture from the library in the University of Peradeniya. This was done and the furniture was installed. The official opening of the new Library was arranged. By that time I had retired from the position of Registrar and was the Director of the Institute of Workers’ Education. Even though I was instrumental in getting the building done, I was not invited for the function. That is gratitude!!

 

H M Nissanka Warakaulle

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Opinion

Ali Sabry bashing

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Justice Minister Ali Sabry has appealed to his critics to spare him from the criticism that he was behind the calling of applications for the appointment of Quazis for Quazi Courts (The Island/23.01.2021). In my view, the allegations levelled against Justice Minister Ali Sabry are unfounded and uneducated. If you are an educated and unbiased citizen of this country, you’ll understand it better. The applications for Quazis for Quazi Courts have been called by the Judicial Service Commission, an independent Commission chaired by the Chief Justice of this country. If you aren’t happy with this decision, you have to take it up with the Chief Justice, not the Justice Minister. He has no control at all over the Judicial Service Commission. In a way, criticising that Justice Minister influenced the Judicial Service Commission, chaired by the Chief Justice, tantamounts to contempt of the Supreme Court. Moreover, Quazi Courts have been in existence for well over 70 years, and it hasn’t affected the Sinhalese or the Tamils nor has it been incompatible with the common law of this country. If there is any serious discrepancy, it can be rectified. But I wonder why the calling of applications for Quazis has now become an issue. I also wonder if the removal of Quazi Courts was promised as a part of the subtle 69 mandate. This is not the first time similar allegations have been made. When Rauf Hakeem was Justice Minister, Member of Parliament Pattali Champika Ranawaka  made serious allegations that more Muslim students were admitted to the Law College and led many protests and ultimately a group of monks stormed the Law College in protest. He had charged that Law College entrance exam papers were leaked and criticised the then Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem for it. He  knew very well that Law College came under the Council of Legal Education chaired by the Chief Justice and  Attorney General and two other Supreme Court judges among others were  members of this Council, yet he had made these allegations with a different motive. Amidst international outcry, Muslim Covid victims have been denied burial. To make the situation worse, some vindictive, venomous elements are now trying to create another bad scenario that Muslims can’t marry either according to their faith, and tarnish the image of this country internationally and drive a wedge between communities. Therefore I earnestly ask the law abiding and peace loving citizens of this country to work against these vindictive, venomous elements.  

 

M. A. Kaleel 

Kalmunai. 

 

 

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Opinion

What do Northern political parties seek?

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Political parties, based in the North, are reported to be getting prepared to attend the UNHRC sessions next month. For several decades, the only thing they did for their constituents is to spread feelings of hate among them, against the government and the people living in the South. Today, we have two important issues where India is involved – re. the Colombo Harbour and the death of four fishermen. There is another perennial issue of Indians fishing in our waters. Have these parties uttered a single word on those matters? What do they expect to gain, or achieve for the Northerners, even if they could prove SL war crimes allegations at the UNHRC? Can they honestly say that they were not a party to the LTTE and other terrorist outfits which looted, tortured and killed hundred or thousands of civilians, both in the North and the South?

Other than shouting about the rights of their people, have they done anything for the wellbeing of the people in those areas? Whatever was given to the people were those given by the Government on a national basis. Excellent example is the conduct of C V Wigneswaran, who held the high position of Chief Minister of the Northern Province for five years – had he done any significant service for the people? Those parties never complain about India for the killings, torturing and raping done by the IPKF, or the damage and loss due to the activities of Indian fishermen.

India too overlooks all that, and to keep Tamil Nadu happy, forces the SL government to grant whatever the Northern Parties demand.

 

K SIRIWEERA

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