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Doc Call 247: A labour of love that has indeed borne fruit



Dr B.J.C.Perera

MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL)

Specialist Consultant Paediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

On the 20th of August 2021, The Island most kindly published an article of mine, where I stated that the Doc Call 247 initiative of the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) and SLT Mobitel, joined later by Dialog, Hutch and Airtel mobile communication providers, is a veritable labour of love. It was initiated as a hotline answered by Western qualified allopathic doctors to provide state-of-the-art information and advice on COVID-19, in all three languages, to the needy, in trying to fill a telling vacuum where the general public needed empathy, information and advice. The SLMA was ever so quick to recognise this dire need and act promptly in a gesture of goodwill to society in general.

In a landmark effort hitherto unseen, coordinated by Mobitel, the other three mobile communication providers selflessly put their collective shoulder to the wheel. Generally speaking, the mobile providers are continuously competing and vying with each other to get the greatest number of subscribers into each network. Here they sunk all their differences, perhaps for the very first time in this little island nation, and produced a magnificently coordinated venture of collaboration, completely free-of-charge to the entire country. It was a dazzling example of their commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility. All the callers needed to do was to dial 247 from any mobile service provider connection or dial 1247 from a Sri Lanka Telecom Land Line, all completely toll-free, to be connected to a qualified doctor for a maximum call duration of ten minutes. In an automated system that can process around 100 calls at any given time, the maximum waiting time or ‘lag time’ has been around 90 to 100 seconds. There were hardly any instances of the system being ‘engaged’ and uncontactable at any given time. The final common pathway was a dedicated network of Mobitel.

The people who answered the calls were all Registered Doctors practising Western Medicine, who selflessly gave of their time and effort, in a purely voluntary and sparkling gesture of commitment. It was without any remuneration whatsoever; just a gesture of compassion to help the people of our land. There were Specialist Consultants, experienced Grade Medical Officers and even most recently qualified men and women of medicine awaiting their internship; the young and the old and anyone who could spare even just a little time from their precious lives to help in this endeavour. The gesture of love has indeed borne fruit now and is just the personification of the immortal words of the poetry of volume II of John Bunyan, “You have not lived today, until you have done something for someone, who can never repay you”.

Up to the time of writing of this piece on 14th September 2021, just about 30 days after the entire venture started, the network has handled around 44,000 telephone calls. At present, there are about 150 Consultants, around 500 Grade Medical Officers and around 100 Pre-Interns who have joined as volunteers into the system. In addition around 80 Sri Lankan doctors resident abroad too joined in. The expatriate doctors resident abroad have taken turns on a roster to cover the Sri Lankan nights due to the time differences in other parts of the world where they are residents. All these doctors of all types listed above have responded to emergencies, provided well-thought-out advice and even gone to the extent of discussing the problems with the seniors and the health authorities, and got back to the callers. Through the entire network, which is now linked to the Ministry of Health COVID-19 Resource Centre and the Suwaseriya Ambulance Service, they have responded magnificently to this hour of need of the men, women and children of our country. The numbers given above are just the number of calls. In most instances, entire families with several COVID-19 positive people had been the recipients of the services provided by the system. The doctors for their part, have taken great pleasure in giving back something to the people of this country who have funded and sponsored their professional advancement in healthcare. Some of these medical women and men have handled thousands of calls while others have responded to just hundreds of them. However, big or small, their contributions have made the entire venture a very successful one.

Answering around 44,000 calls from needy patients is a Herculean task. That is a kind of a superhuman response with a waiting time or lag time of under 2 minutes. What do all these numbers tell us? They very clearly show us that there is a crying need among patients and families afflicted and affected by COVID-19 for accurate information. It also portrays the anxiety and concerns amongst these people of our land. Each call represents a household where there may be many who are infected, but not tested often and not even represented in national data. It has been assessed that the average number of likely patients per call is around 4. In such a context, the system has tried to help around 150,000 men women and children of our country in just about 30 days. Our experience suggests that the vast majority of patients can be successfully managed at home, with a few simple instructions and guidance. However, to save lives, it is of paramount importance to detect the small number of people who need immediate care and refer them to hospitals for as early management as humanly possible. The system and the operators have striven so hard to do just that.

In this ground-breaking and history-making venture, without any exceptions worthy of note, the callers have been extremely grateful to the doctors who have always remained anonymous through the facilities built into the system. At the end of the conversations, many callers have deemed it fit to shower unrestricted praise on the responding doctors, the SLMA and the mobile service providers. They have invoked the blessings of the Triple Gem, Lord Buddha, Jesus Christ, Allah, Lord Shiva and many other deities on the doctor who responded to their call for help. Such gestures of gratitude have left some of the doctors visibly moved, even speechless and given them the kind of personal satisfaction that, in their own words, was just priceless. Indeed, many of them have had misty eyes due to the obvious appreciation expressed so frequently by the callers. As for me, from a personal perspective, it has been such a humbling and gratifying experience in my entire professional life to have done even a little towards the welfare of our Sri Lankan people.

Yet for all that, we cannot say that we have sufficient numbers of volunteer doctors to cater to the tremendous demand. We do appreciate the fact that doctors are very busy people with the current pandemic, trying hard to get on with their own lives while having to balance many things in their homes as well. It is to their eternal credit that with all their commitments, they are able to give even an hour or two a day to this endeavour. There are no fixed duty hours or rotas for the doctors. They can ‘opt in’ and ‘opt out’ of the system at the press of a couple of buttons on their mobile telephones. If you do not wish to be disturbed at night and ‘opt out’, the system will not bother you. The entire endeavour has been designed to be ever so flexible simply because of these considerations. There are close to 25,000 registered doctors who practise Western medicine in Sri Lanka. If just one-fifth of them, just 4000 to 5000 or so, agree to give an hour of their precious time every day, or even every other day, we will be able to run the system that has the potential to handle around 100 calls at any given time; ever so efficiently, and smoothly, to the very benefit of our people.

SO…, THIS IS A FERVENT CLARION CALL AND A VERY SINCERE APPEAL TO ALL DOCTORS IN SRI LANKA, TO LEND A HAND TO THIS HUMANITARIAN INITIATIVE. All they need is a Mobitel connection and if they do not have one already, Mobitel will provide them one with a SIM Card, free of charge. A Mobitel connection is needed to get into the system as the final common pathway is through a Mobitel network.

Finally…, take a bow…, Mobitel, Dialog, Hutch and Airtel, the system operators and the Special Working Group of the SLMA, the President, Secretary and the Council of the SLMA, and all the volunteer doctors who are the backbone of this initiative, for a splendid job so very well done. I am quite sure that if that legend of yore, Muhammad Ali, the champion heavyweight boxer who immortalised his own words, “I am the greatest” was alive today, he would be quite happy to unhesitatingly paraphrase his words to say “YOU ARE THE GREATEST”.

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Celebrating what went well or denouncing what went wrong?



By Chani Imbulgoda

“We suffer today, because leaders in the past have failed to govern this country properly”. Oh, the predecessor has not done things well, they all have let the place go haywire”. Familiar excuses… When one takes over the leadership be it the country, be it an organisation, or be it a new position. We, naturally, incline to blame the past, criticize the leadership and highlight what went wrong. We start new reforms, new policies, new practices… condemning the past. We have a tendency to look back through the rearview mirror… only to criticise what went wrong, and start everything all over. Why don’t we give some credit to the past and celebrate what went well, as well?

It is said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. While Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’, I wondered how much similarity we can evidence today. Tolstoy describes how the war was waged in early 1800, and how Russia suffered. After two centuries, we witness how Russia repeats it over Ukraine. No lessons learnt from the past. We just passed a civil riot; strikes, protests continue; and controlling and curbing protests are not rare. As a country, have we forgotten our gloomy days in recent past? Bombs, killing, destructions from northern point Pedro to southern Dondra, youth insurrection, misdirection and all the blood we witnessed… It seems that we, rather than learning the lessons unlearned it.

Bringing the beauty of learning from the past, American author, Judith Glaser suggests looking at the past, finding new meaning from significant events, following them and creating successful behaviour patterns. Have we forgotten our glorious past where this country was recognised as the jade of the Indian Ocean? This was known as a prosperous country during the reigns of ancient kingdoms. Once the granary of the East, and even before that, crowned as the Kingdom of mighty by king Ravana, who deemed to be the first to fly an aircraft. I recall my friend in university days who used to say that “there is no future without past”. As Santayana, Glazer and my friend say “we need to look back and learn from our past in moving forward. In the early 19th century, we submitted our sovereignty to colonial masters by conspiring against our own breed. We made Sinhala only policy in 1956 and we opened the economy in 1977, letting our strengths blown out by foreign winds. Lots of lessons are on the stake, if we really want to take. An upcoming book “What Went Wrong” by a bureaucrat, Mr. Chandrasena Maliyadde, a former Secretary to Government Ministries discusses how Sri Lanka failed in many aspects, including public service and University education. There are books on historic accounts, newspapers and media that bring present contexts, and futuristic projections…it is left for us to make our soup adding right mix of past, present and future to taste the soup.

Past is a repository of knowledge!

Reflect on the qualities and competencies possessed by today’s youth with yesteryear’s generation. Do we miss something in the new generation? A state university officer once lamented that those young officers joining the university did not look at the overall picture when making decisions … fair enough, I have noticed a many young staff, and even some old hands think only about the fraction of work they deemed responsible … ignoring the whole process involved. We often pin the blame on the education system. During the good old days, school curricula consisted of lessons on morals and ethics, lessons on history. More importantly, formal education kept space for youngsters to think, there were no tuition classes, and no online assignments to complete. There was time for friends … time to play; time to enjoy nature, and time to talk with parents. Those days youngsters were a part of the real world, nature and ancestors who educate the wholeness of life. Aren’t we missing something in our education system? It is time to look back and look ahead, and look across. Finland, known to be one of the best countries for education in the world, avail time for students to engage with nature; no tough competitive exams, they learn being humane, they learn to be balanced humans. There was a propaganda “Nearest School is the Best School”. In the present context where everything has become expensive, exercise books to transport fees. Safety and security of both male, female children are at stake. Much concerns over drugs, and sex, it is time to revisit and refresh this propaganda tagline. There is a shortage of papers, there was a shortage of fuel and electricity, we never know what is in stock for us in the coming months. We cannot afford to have marker pens and whiteboards in schools now. Time to think about the rock slate which we could use several times and learn well and hard way. I believe more the hard work put in tiring both the hand and head, higher the productivity. Considering the wellbeing of individuals, rising cost and scarcity of essentials and medical drugs, and sustainability of our environment, time has come to think of our past styles of commuting, cycling. Cycling reduces air pollution; cycling makes you fitter. In effect, we will not be compelled to depend on many vehicles imported and perhaps medicine too. We have reached the point where we have to bridge the past with the future. We need to learn from the past and blend it with the future, appropriately without forgetting the present and its context.

Learn from the past, but don’t

stick to it.

When we see a roadblock, a cavity on the road or a commotion or congestion, we naturally turn to the rearview mirror. But we do not turn the car and go back to where we started. No doubt we learn lessons from the past, but we can never create the past again. If you drive constantly looking back from the rearview mirror, you would not proceed much far! Buddha has said that “you can’t have a better tomorrow if you think about yesterday all the time”. One of the key accusations during recent public agitations, and the rebel was that youth do not get opportunities. The anxiety developed over rejection or blocking paths for youth, to be hatred towards old. We often miss fresh blood in decision making bodies, especially when it comes to public sector institutions, owing to too much credit being given to the past. Long number of years in service overshadows competence. When recruiting people for positions, we look at the conduct and experience of the applicant in the past, and make our decision; sometimes a decision to show the door would completely sabotage the future of the applicant. We come across people who wag their past records when they make important decisions for the future. People like to boast about their glorious past and want to create yesterday in tomorrow. I recall an incident that took place at a staff meeting where I work. When the senior officers celebrating past glory, a few newcomers openly challenged and declared they get demotivated in effect. If we cling too much to the past, we will end up spoiling both our present and future.

Change is inescapable. Everything gets changed, context, requirements, and mindsets. History cannot be restored as it was, only lessons and practices can be brought and tried after careful analysis. We normally cling to one of the two paradoxes; one school of thought is glued to the history, experience, and the way things happened. They hardly see goodness in novelty. On the other extreme, the school of thought is forward-looking they ignore the past, condemn the history and embrace novelty. In a car, we have a larger windscreen, two side glasses and a tiny rearview mirror. Why? When we are moving, we need to look at the future with a much broader view, assess the present, and from time to time look back and ensure we are alright.

Past is always a scapegoat for those who don’t want to strive to achieve success. We as a nation today suffer a lot and I believe in owing up to the blame game we play with the past and egoistic attitude and our unwillingness to learn from the past. I always advocate seeing what went well in the past, success stories teach us lessons, where failures are more appealing to worry and enjoy at the same time.

(The writer is a holder of a senior position in a state

University with international experience and exposure and an MBA from Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIM), Sri Lanka and currently reading for her PhD related to reasons of reform failures at PIM. She can be reached at

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Rogues have no right to eat while masses starve!



Ali (Raheem) Baba and 225 rogues have no right to eat while the people they are supposed to protect, nourish and maintain go hungry.

A poor widow with a school going child called me from Elpitiya and told me that they had not eaten anything yet. The time was 11 AM. The child had refused to go to school with an empty stomach. But the mother had coaxed him to go to school promising him to keep lunch ready when he returns. She had not found anything to cook by 11 AM and desperately called me. This was just one of such calls I get regularly.

I lost my shirt; I scolded her and told her that she had elected Ali (Sabri Raheem) Baba and 225 scoundrels and that she should go to them and ask for food. I instructed her to do this. Collect as many widows like her as possible and go to the house of their MP (GK) and remind her that they had fed her all these years and now they were hungry and she must feed them. Sit down in the house and do not leave till your problem is solved. While you go hungry that woman has no right to eat. In fact, the scoundrels of Diyawannawa have no right to gobble down subsidised food in the canteen of the den of thieves called the parliament of Sri Lanka.

Another widow called me and told me that she and her children lived in the dark. They have electricity but they could not afford to use it. The family lives in total darkness, every night. The government which could not maintain an uninterrupted power supply at least during the A/L examinations is not a failed administration but a heartless criminal regime. The rogue government which deprived the people of power has no right to use power in their den for light, sound and air conditioning.

And the rogue government has no right to govern at all. It has deprived the people of their right to vote and choose representatives they desire. It has cancelled the provincial council elections and the local government elections. By depriving the people of their right to vote it has abrogated its right to govern. Getting rid of this government is legal, and, in fact, it is the right and the civic duty of the people of this country.

It is this government that robbed the country to bankruptcy, ruined the agriculture and the economy and destroyed law and order in the country. Now, it blames Aragalaya for that. They pretend to be the victims! The effect has become the cause; they turn everything upside down!

Everything they are doing now is some desperate measure or other to keep marking time as long as possible to rob and rob and empty the national coffers before getting out of government and the country.

The scoundrels in the Parliament are accused and even found guilty by courts, of every crime under the Sun. They cheat, swindle and rob openly and unceasingly. This is a curse on the country and its people. We are paying for our stupidity and gullibility. We are a people immersed in superstition and irrational beliefs. There are no better ways to learn life’s lessons than hunger and deprivation. Aragalaya was a great eye-opener and a teacher of the difference between myth and truth, between objective reality and the narrow chauvinism of race and religion; the last refuge of the scoundrel. I hope the 6.9 million have at least by now learnt the lesson.

My dear co-citizens of Sri Lanka, it is time to act. It is pathetic and depressing to see our small children becoming stunted, weak and malnourished. They cannot wait to grow up till things get better constitutionally and decently. The powers that are do not behave constitutionally or decently. They are not gentlemen. They are certainly not ‘Honorable’ Members of Parliament. They have become fascists and tyrants, dictators and underworld god-fathers. Regardless of the cost, we must free ourselves from their murderous grip on us and on the country. It is time to act. For the sake of generations of our children, it is time to act.

Fr J.C. Pieris,



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Why do we vote?



In his article in Sunday Island, Maj Gen A M U Seneviratne (Rtd) said “We vote and elect our representatives to represent us in parliament and other governing bodies and we expect them to respect us and work for the uplift of the country and its citizens”.

I totally disagree – We, the majority, elect them just for their sake, not to uplift the country or its citizens. Otherwise, how could every riff-raff who had not done anything worthwhile for the people and are notable for corruption and frauds be voted, election after election? Haven’t we seen how their supporters gather around them (and cheer) when they come out after Court hearings in which they were accused of various crimes?

K Siriweera

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