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Direct Relief: Lanka heading for a humanitarian disaster

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Direct Relief USA Emergency Response Manager Chris Alleway and Senior Communication Specialist Maeve O’Connor called on Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena at the Prime Minister’s Office in Colombo recently.

22mn Lankans lose access to medicine

Since Sri Lanka announced in April that it would default on its foreign debt, its 22 million residents have lost access to most medicine and medical supplies, setting them on course for a humanitarian disaster, according to a report published by the ReliefWeb, the humanitarian information project of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

It said: Unlike Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the recent hurricane batterings of Puerto Rico and Florida, Sri Lanka’s crisis grew slowly and has garnered few international headlines. But Sri Lankans are suffering amid the harshest economic crisis the country has confronted since gaining independence from the British empire in 1948.

With the country’s foreign reserves depleted, the nationalized healthcare system cannot afford to import medicine and medical supplies in sufficient quantities. Sri Lanka relies on imports for about 85% of its pharmaceutical needs and about 80% of its medical supplies. The country imported $815 million in medicine in 2021, but by May had only about $25 million in foreign reserves to pay for imports of any kind.

Last week in Sri Lanka, Direct Relief staff participated in an extensive series of meetings with Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and much of the country’s healthcare leadership while overseeing the arrival of what may be the largest donation of medicine to the country since the crisis began.

What they encountered was grim. “For the next six months, they’re expecting a catastrophic number of deaths,” said Chris Alleway, Direct Relief’s manager of emergency response and new initiatives, who led the Sri Lanka meetings.

The 3,500-bed National Hospital of Sri Lanka in Columbo, which usually has 1,300 medicines in stock, is now down to requesting only the 60 most essential medicines.

With anesthesia in short supply, most general surgeries in the country have ceased, including kidney transplants. Cancer patients have lost access to medications needed to fight the deadly disease. Diabetes patients must secure and bring their own glucose meters for blood sugar checkups.

Many hospitals are stocked out of basic items like bandages and cotton balls. The stockouts are forcing rural clinics to close their doors and refer patients to larger facilities in urban areas, which also are overwhelmed by the flow of patients.

Due to a severe fuel shortage, the country’s fishing fleets cannot go far out to sea, slashing the supply of fish that is a significant source of protein in the country, including at its largest children’s hospital.

In addition to Prime Minister and the Ministery of Health, Direct Relief staff met with the chairs of the country’s medical universities, including the colleges of oncology, psychiatry, nephrology, hematology, endocrinology, critical care medicine, anesthesiology, and maternal & child health.

Sri Lanka is also losing clinicians as they migrate to other countries with more opportunities, while its medical colleges see the number of applicants for medical education decline sharply.

“Every one of the medical college leaders informed us that they are in a dire situation, with major shortages across the board for everything,” Alleway said. “A lot of them were very emotional in our conversations. You could tell that they’re holding together the health care system to the best of their abilities with limited to no resources.”

Responding to the crisis spurred by Sri Lanka’s default in June of this year, Direct Relief has delivered eight humanitarian shipments totaling 27 tons and 16 million defined daily doses of donated medicine.

The largest shipment from Direct Relief to Sri Lanka—36,600 lbs. (18 tons) of medicine and medical supplies requested explicitly by Sri Lanka’s government—arrived in recent weeks.

“Direct Relief’s donation of $10 million worth of medicine will save many lives,” Prime Minister Gunawardena said in a statement.

The 18-ton shipment included medications to treat infections, wounds, seizures, mental health conditions, glaucoma, cardiovascular disease and respiratory issues.

These products were donated to Direct Relief by companies including Accord Healthcare, Apotex, Baxter International, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Viatris. One particularly considerable contribution from Accord included nearly 200,000 defined daily doses of IV furosemide, which is used to treat edema from heart failure and liver and kidney disease.

Other companies contributing donated medicine to Sri Lanka include AbbVie, Boehringer Ingelheim Cares Foundation, Eli Lilly & Co., Hikma Pharmaceuticals, Integra LifeSciences, Meitheal Pharmaceuticals, and Merck.

Partnering with Sri Lanka’s College of Endocrinologists and the Life for a Child program, Direct Relief has also donated and delivered two shipping containers of insulin that went to 25 health facilities for the benefit of patients under the age of 14 with diabetes.

Direct Relief works closely with Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Sri Lankan Embassy in the United States, the Medical Supply Division, and the National Medicines Regulatory Authority to deliver supplies and will continue to do so.

Direct Relief has also received invaluable assistance from Medical Help Sri Lanka, an organization formed by Sri Lankans in the United States.

“Direct Relief has established trusted relationships at all levels of the government and will continue to provide support as needed,” Alleway said.

In April, Sri Lanka suspended repayment of nearly $7 billion in foreign debt due this year out of a total foreign debt of more than $51 billion. On Sept. 1, the International Monetary Fund announced $2.9 billion in loans “to restore macroeconomic stability and debt sustainability while safeguarding financial stability, reducing corruption vulnerabilities and unlocking Sri Lanka’s growth potential.”

The loans, however, are not expected to restore Sri Lanka’s ability to import medicine quickly. In the meantime, Direct Relief will continue assisting the country to the fullest extent possible, with additional medical aid shipments already underway.



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Supreme Court Judge, President of the Appeal Court, Appeal Court Justice took oath before President

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(pic PMD)

Justice K. P. Fernando, President of the Court of Appeal took oath as a Supreme Court Judge before President Ranil Wickremesinghe this morning (06) at the President’s House in Fort.

Court of Appeal Justice Mr. Nissanka Bandula Karunaratne took oath as the President of the Court of Appeal while High Court Judge M.A.R. Marikkar was also sworn in as a Judge of the Court of Appeal before President Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Minister of Justice Wijayadasa Rajapaksha, Secretary to the President Mr. Saman Ekanayake, Commanders of the Tri Forces and other officials attended this event.

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Strong earthquake hits south-eastern Turkey near Syria border

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BBC reported that a powerful earthquake has hit Gaziantep in south-eastern Turkey, near the border with Syria.

The US Geological Survey said the 7.8 magnitude tremor struck at 04:17 local time (01:17 GMT) at a depth of 17.9km (11 miles) near the city of Gaziantep.

The quake was felt in the capital Ankara and other Turkish cities, and also across the region.

Reports are coming in that several buildings have collapsed, and a number of people may be trapped.

A BBC Turkish correspondent in Diyarbakir reports that a shopping mall in the city collapsed.

Rushdi Abualouf, a BBC producer in the Gaza Strip, said there was about 45 seconds of shaking in the house he was staying in.

Turkish seismologists estimated the strength of the quake to be 7.4 magnitude.

They said that a second tremor hit the region just minutes later.

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13 A: Political parties miss Ranil’s Feb. 04 deadline for submitting their proposals

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Udaya compares constitutional threat with Indonesian crisis in late ’90s

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The government hasn’t received proposals from political parties regarding President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s decision to implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution fully.

President Wickremesinghe, on January 26, requested party leaders to furnish their suggestions, if any, by Feb. 04 as he intended to brief Parliament on Feb. 08 as regards the implementation of land and police powers.

Political parties, represented in Parliament, had not responded to President Wickremesinghe’s request so far, authoritative sources told The Island. Responding to another query, sources said that the President’s Office hadn’t received proposals in support of President Wickremesinghe’s declaration or against it.

Several political parties, including the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) spurned the President’s invitation.

Having declared his intention to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, enacted in Nov. 1987, during Thai Pongal celebrations, in Jaffna, on January 15th, 2023, President Wickremesinghe warned party leaders on January 26 he would go ahead with plans unless the parliament repealed it. Both declarations were made in the presence of Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.

Sources noted that though several political parties declared opposition and some issued statements supportive of the President’s move, they haven’t submitted proposals in writing.

President Wickremesinghe prorogued Parliament, on January 27, the day after setting Feb. 04 as the deadline for political parties to submit proposals. The new session of Parliament begins on Feb. 08.Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) General Secretary, Sagara Kariyawasam, MP, told The Island that the decision to fully implement the controversial amendment shouldn’t be taken hastily.

“We are certainly not opposed to the devolution of power. However, we cannot under any circumstances support an agenda that may cause chaos,” National List MP said.

The Attorney-at-Law said so when The Island asked him whether the ruling party submitted its proposals to President Wickremesinghe.The lawmaker said that there was no requirement to do so as he on behalf of the SLPP explained to the January 26 meeting chaired by President Wickremesinghe why 13th Amendment shouldn’t be fully implemented without examining the ground situation.

“Seven past Presidents didn’t do that. Why didn’t they do so? We’ll have to study why they refrained from granting police and land powers in spite of them being part of that Amendment. If the reasons that compelled them not to do so no longer exist, we can consider the proposals,” lawmaker Kariyawasam said.

Declaring SLPP’s commitment to maximum possible devolution, MP Kariyawasam warned of dire consequences if decisions were made on the basis of language and religion.The SLPP that secured 145 seats at the last general election remains the largest party in parliament though over two dozen MPs quit the government group.

MP Kariyawasam emphasized that they couldn’t act recklessly on the issue at hand.Those who quit the SLPP parliamentary group, too, have strongly opposed the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader Udaya Gammanpila, MP, compared the developing crisis here with Western project that divided Indonesia in the late 90s.Attorney-at-Law Gammanpila explained how Western countries exploited the economic crisis in Indonesia to compel Jakarta to grant independence to East Timor.

Addressing a public rally at Dehiwela on Feb. 02  in support of Nidahas Janatha Sandhanaya contesting March 09 Local Government polls, former Power and Energy Minister said that the challenge faced by Sri Lanka owing to the continuing balance of payments and debt crises was very much similar to the circumstances leading to East Timor independence.

The 13th Amendment would split Sri Lanka on ethnic lines, the Colombo District MP warned.The MP recalled how external powers created an environment that compelled Indonesian President Suharto to resign in May 1998 to pave the way for Megawati Setiawati Sukarnoputri to win the next presidential election. The MP said that Sukarnoputri granted independence to East Timor.

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