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Covid jab travails in Colombo



The vaccination of residents in Colombo and suburbs with Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has now been continuing for almost eight weeks. The programme started with great hype but soon had many hiccups. First, the vaccine was given to all healthcare and non-healthcare staff involved in the campaign. This went on without any issues, although there were rumblings from some health staffers who were left out.

The vaccine was to be given to those over 18 in the beginning. Then it was decided to give to only those over 30, perhaps because the country could not muster enough doses of the vaccine. I thought the priority would be given to those over 60 years of age as in other countries, but soon this was changed. Many who were over 60 that went for the vaccine were turned away unnecessarily. In one case, the widow of a former parliamentarian and a diplomat, who had to climb several floors despite having a severe physical disability, was turned away despite my attempts to convince the doctors at the clinic there. The argument was that the ‘Computer’ rejects the details when they enter the NIC number! Although saner counsel prevailed, and after 15 minutes, I was called to inform that a VVIP had ordered that those over 60 could be given the vaccine: The lady was not fit enough to climb the stairs again.

Then of course, although the clinics were organized by the nurses, midwives, and doctors satisfactorily, the other elements of the campaign were much to be desired. There was no proper communication to the people, who should have been told very clearly when and where to go, and to whom the vaccine is given. Meanwhile there were allegations and counter-allegations of malpractices but I would not dwell on these issues. It is up to the authorities to verify what happened. What was clear was that due to the poor planning and communication, the people had to stand in the sun for hours to get the vaccine or to be turned away at the last moment, stating that they do not belong to that area.

In view of the above, we had a meeting at CMC on how to improve on what was already being done. My suggestion, using my experience in controlling epidemics, was that we give priority to those over 60 years of age, and have the programmes in the areas where the disease was spreading at that time, and then move into other known focal areas. However, the counter suggestion was that we go into “Virgin” areas, where the disease had not touched the people by that time. I was left aghast at that suggestion, as it was against basic principles of epidemic control. However, by midnight saner counsel prevailed, and we were told that the Head of the Epidemiology Unit had ordered that the vaccination programmes should be held in areas where the disease was present and in known Covid-19 infected areas.

At present the vaccine is given only to those over 60 years of age. The queues have lessened and anyone over 60 years of age can just walk in to one of the six centres in Colombo city and get the vaccine. The programme is organized much better now due to small numbers, and online bookings can be made. I would have preferred if the vaccination services were taken to the people and not get old people to come to the centres and climb stairs. We were very successful in getting rid of polio 20 years ago, in 2001, because we delivered the service to the door-step and vaccinated all the children in the city in one day. We are now in a much more complex situation, but the staff should go from one area to another in a planned manner according to the needs and guidelines. I was at a centre last week when only 10% of the expected number came for the vaccine.

Proper planning and communication are a must for this type of exercise, and when the second round of vaccinations start in April, the authorities should get the help of volunteers, local politicians and NGOs, in organizing the people to come in an orderly manner to get the vaccinations.



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This refers to the superlatively interesting and provocative piece on the above subject by Dr Upul Wijewardene{UW) appearing in The Island of 21/3/23 wherein, as he states, he had been a victim himself at the hands of a well-known Professor of Medicine turned health administrator. He makes it a point to castigate the leaders of the Buddhist clergy for their deviation from the sublime doctrine of this religion.

My first thought on this subject is that it is a cultural problem of exploitation by the privileged of the less fortunate fellow beings. The cultural aspect has its origin in the religion of the majority in India, Hinduism. There is no such discrimination in Islam.

The first recorded case was that of a Sinhala member of the Dutch army fighting against the Portuguese (or the army of the Kandiyan kingdom) being prevented by the members of the higher ranks from wearing sandals due to his low status in the caste hierarchy. The Dutch commander permitted the Sinhala solder to wear sandals as recorded by Paul Pieris in “Ceylon the Portuguese era”

There is also the instance of a monk getting up to meet the King when it was not the customary way of greeting the King by monks.

In an article by Dr Michael Roberts, a Sri Lankan historian published in a local journal, it is said that members of the majority caste (approximately 40% of the Sinhala population) were not permitting lower ranking public officials serving the British government wear vestments studded with brass buttons. The second tier of the hierarchy who had become rich through means other than agriculture like sale of alcohol in the early British times took their revenge by lighting crackers in front of houses of their caste rivals when a British Duke was marching along in a procession in Colombo.

It is not uncommon for members of minority castes numerically low in numbers to help their own kind due to the discriminatory practices of the higher tiers of the hierarchy.

Dr Leo Fernando
Talahena, Negombo

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Billion-dollar carrot



The IMF successfully coerced the government into falling line with its instructions on debt restructuring and increasing of revenue, among others, and in all probability will release the first tranche of the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) during the course of this week. Regrettably, the IMF is not coercive where the violations of fundamental rights of a country, vis a vis universal franchise, is concerned. On its part, the government flaunted this invaluable tool on the public, as the only remedy for all its financial ailments. It was least worried of the consequences that would necessarily follow.

Taking the cue, professionals and trade union activists dangled the carrot of carrot of strikes to restrain the government on its implementation, the results of which are still in abeyance. Not to be outdone, the powers that be has refused to relent on the grounds that the economy has to be strengthened at whatever costs.

Now that the IMF loan has materialized, the government is already focusing its attention on securing further assistance from other lending agencies. How will the IMF monies be expended, and for what purposes? Naturally, the people would want to know since it is they who have to foot the bill at the end. The Treasury insists that it has no funds to provide for the conduct of LG polls. Just 10% of the rupee equivalent of the first tranche of US $ 300 million will suffice for the successful completion of the elections. Provided the government wants to.

The President has assured that no sooner the Agreement is signed with the IMF, he would submit a copy of it to Parliament. It would be prudent if he would also submit (without plucking figures from thin air) a comprehensive expenditure account on the disbursement of the first tranche. And continue to do so for the rest.

Being fully aware of the country’s top priority needs, attention should be focused on providing them at reasonable prices. Besides them, agriculture, fishing and domestic industries should also be given due consideration. Merely dangling of carrots before them will not suffice.

Non-essential development projects should be shelved until the dreamed of economic stability is achieved. Of special note is that upkeep and interests of politicians should not be addressed with these funds.Can the people expect some sort of genuine transparency even at this late stage?


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Death penalty – another view



In his article, (The Island, 8th March), Dr Jayampathy Wickremeratne, would have us believe that the Death Penalty is not an effective deterrent and it should be abolished in Sri Lanka. Similar arguments are presented in India, home to some of the most horrendous crimes of violence against Women and children, and also in South Africa, where the death penalty was abolished despite strong opposition from the vast majority of the population.

Use of the Death Penalty purely for political purposes is always bad, but that’s not what the public are calling for. The public want the Death penalty implemented RIGOROUSLY, against those who have undeniably murdered children, and also serial killers whose victims are invariably women. Their crimes are gruesome but unfortunately need to be detailed to counter the pseudo- academic arguments of Death Penalty abolishonists. For example:

South Africa abolished the death penalty despite vigorous opposition. In South Africa one of its worst serial killers, led the police to the remains of 38 of his victims all of them women and all from the poorest class (mostly domestic servants).

On 12 March, India’s National Broadcaster NDTV reports the case of a man in Kashmir, whose marriage proposal was refused. He murdered his prospective young bride, cut up her body and disposed the remains in several places to avoid detection. A few days ago, a similar incident in India was reported by NDTV, where a 17-year-old was stabbed and dragged through s crowded street and murdered with no public intervention! In Sri Lanka a few years ago, four-year-old Seya fell victim to a murderer, rapist, a person known to her family, whom the child trusted. Likewise, a 17-year-old girl miss Sivaloganathan was raped and murdered in the North by a gang led by an individual known as “Swiss Kumar” a porn film maker of Sri Lankan origin, living in Switzerland. (One wonders whether he subsequently received the benevolent “Presidential Pardon”!

Other arguments used in Dr Wickremeratne’s article, are out of date. For example, he refers to wrongful convictions in a bygone age where DNA testing did not exist. DNA tests enable identity to be established and tie a murderer to the crime, beyond any doubt. Elsewhere he cites a Table where Murder rates are calculated as follows- “divide the number of murders by the total population, in death-penalty and non-death penalty states”. This methodology is patently flawed. It assumes that the populations of ALL 50 States in the USA are homogeneous in demography and other characteristics- it equates the violent State of New York with relatively peaceful Alaska.

Dr W advocated “long term imprisonment” in lieu of death penalty. Frankly this is the academic argument of a person removed from everyday life and steeped in Academia, “the social cost of rehabilitation” is Immense! It has been estimated that the cost of keeping a person on death row is at least Rs 50,000 per month – for the rest of the murderers’ life! It should ALSO be pointed out that in Singapore and other countries where the death penalty operates, murder rates are significantly low.


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