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Eminent group now addresses President, PM and health ministers about vaccinations

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Follow-up to earlier letter to DG Health

The group of eminent academics, professionals and civic activists, led by former Colombo University Vice Chancellor, Prof. Savitri Gunasekera, who wrote to the Director General of Health earlier this month (Sunday Island June 6) together with some others have now written a follow-up letter to the President, Prime Minister, the Health Minister and state ministers of health. We reproduce its text below:

“We are writing to you as a follow up to our letter to the Director General Health, which appeared in the Sunday Island of June 6, 2021. We raised in that letter certain  critical issues in regard to the current Covid vaccination programme. We highlighted the need for clarity in policy planning and programming and the importance of ensuring equitable access to Covid vaccines. We asked that all front line workers providing Covid health services should be given priority. We questioned the exclusion of some and the need for rational system for determining front line workers and vulnerable categories. That should be given priority in the administration of the vaccine.

“We trust that the specific questions we have asked will receive clear answers from the Director General. We hope that the Minister of Health and State Ministers will facilitate that process as soon as possible, and as a matter of urgency. This will inspire public  confidence in the health system that the whole country witnessed, and was  acknowledged even globally, when the government commenced its Covid response programme in 2020.  

 “We now understand that some stocks of Astrazeneca vaccine are still available for distribution. We also understand from an official press release and the media that new stocks of Astrazeneca  have arrived or are expected soon. We are now writing to urge and call upon you to please ensure that this vaccine is distributed in a completely transparent and planned manner to those citizens who received the first Astrazeneca vaccine.

 “All those who received the first Astrazeneca vaccine in the initial phase of  the Ministry of Health vaccination programme (after February 2021),  have a right to receive the second in the manner that is medically recommended. There is a lack of clarity in regard to the recommended period of time between the two doses of the vaccine. Already three months have passed since the first Astrazeneca vaccine was administered. A prolonged lapse of time between the vaccines can make the vaccine ineffective. This will impact on the success of the vaccination campaign in responding to the Covid pandemic. It is the duty of the Health Ministry to ensure that the second Astrazeneca vaccine is given to persons who received the first, as soon as the vaccines come to the country, without any further delays.

 “In doing so, we ask that within this group, priority is given to all front line workers directly involved in Covid health services, and to citizens over the age of 60-years, taking account of the date and the locations of the vaccination points. These are categories considered most vulnerable to the Covid disease globally, and according to the evidence base and statistics currently available in Sri Lanka. The Director General in media statements on the Ministry of Health guidelines, has also recognized senior citizens as a vulnerable category that must be given first priority in vaccine distribution and  administration. This is being recognized (and should continue to be recognized) in relation to the current Sinopharm and Sputnik vaccination distribution.

“Denying citizens their right to receive the second Astrazeneca vaccine in completion of the first part of their vaccination regime is a violation of the right to equality and non-discrimination in access to health care.  We call upon you to ensure that necessary priority is given to all front line workers and other identified vulnerable categories in the administration of the second Astrazeneca vaccine. Early information on the date and time for vaccinations should be provided as is the practice now followed in regard to the new vaccines, which have come into the country.

“Successive governments have respected, fulfilled and protected the important right to equitable access to health care from the time of independence, for over 70 years. We call upon the Government to collectively fulfill this responsibility to the People, in administering what is left of the Astrazeneca vaccines and in distributing new stocks.”

 

The signatories to the letter are:

 

Prof. Savitri Goonesekere,

Emeritus Professor of Law and Former Vice Chancellor, University of Colombo; Dr. G. Usvatte-aratchi, Retired from UN/DESA, New York; Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy, former Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict;  Prof. Arjuna Aluvihare, Emeritus Professor of Surgery and former Vice Chancellor, University of Peradeniya, former Chairman, University Grants Commission; Prof. Gananath Obeysekere, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Princeton University, USA; Bishop Duleep de Chickera, retired Anglican Bishop of Colombo; Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka, former Executive Director of the United States-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission; Mr. Chandra Jayaratne, former Chairman, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce; Prof. Deepika Udagama, Professor of Law, University of Peradeniya, former Chairperson, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka; Prof. Camena Guneratne, Department of Legal Studies, Open University of Sri Lanka; Prof Gameela Samarasinghe, Department of Sociology, University of Colombo; Dr A. C. Visvalingam – Past President, Society of Structural Engineers, Sri Lanka; Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris, former General Secretary of the National Christian Council, former Principal of the Theological College of Sri Lanka; Dr. Ranjini Obeyesekere, Retired Professor, Dept. of Anthropology, Princeton University, USA; Mr. Priyantha Gamage, Attorney-at-Law, Commissioner, Legal Aid Commission of Sri Lanka; and Mr. SCC Elankovan, Attorney-at-Law and social activist      



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Hemas collect discarded carbon pens, toothbrushes from schools

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By ifham Nizam

Hemas Holdings PLC and the Environment Ministry yesterday came together to provide schools with containers to collect used plastic items such as ballpoint pens and toothbrushes. Hemas Holdings PLC, will supply the containers until April 2022.

The agreement was signed by Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera and Hemas Holdings PLC CEO Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson, Executive Director Shiromi Masakorala, Senior Manager Ishani Ranasinghe and Manager Mindika Tillekeratne were also present on the occasion.

Minister Amaraweera said it took 400-500 years for used ballpoint pens and tooth brushes to decompose. Amaraweera instructed officials not to spend any government money on the scheme.

The government school system alone discarded between 80-100 kilograms of used ballpoint pens a day. As with other public and private institutions, there was no accurate information on the ballpoint pens used and discarded by individuals, the Minister added. The Minister said that it had been estimated that at least one million toothbrushes were discarded daily.

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AZ vaccine delay baffles over 500,000 awaiting second shot 

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DGHS to be summoned by HRCSL  

 

By Shamindra Ferdinando 

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has decided to summon the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena for failure to address HRCSL’s concerns pertaining to the ongoing Covid-19 vaccination programme. 

Dr. Jagath Balasuriya, Chairman, HRCSL, on May 28, in writing, requested Dr. Gunawardena to submit a comprehensive report on the vaccination programme by, or before, June 15. 

A senior spokesperson for the HRCSL yesterday (27) told The Island that Dr. Gunawardena would be summoned as the request made in terms of Human Rights Act of Sri Lanka Act No 21 of 1996 was not adhered to. 

The HRCSL consists of Dr. Jagath Balasuriya, Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara, Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan and H.K. Navaratne Weraduwa. 

DGHS is the senior officer in charge of Covid-19 inoculation drive. 

In HRCSL letter dated May 28 addressed to Dr. Gunawardena, one-time lawmaker Dr. Balasuriya said that clarification was sought after receiving representations as regarding the inoculation drive. 

Dr. Gunawardena didn’t answer his phone for us to clarify the issue at hand. 

Meanwhile, controversy surrounds the decision to suspend giving Pfizer as the second jab to those who had received Covishield (AstraZeneca). According to the health ministry, 2,171 Covishield recipients were given Pfizer on July 7 and further inoculation was suspended abruptly on July 8 claiming that sufficient stock of AstraZeneca would be available in the third week of July. The announcement was made by Deputy Director General Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath who declared the immediate suspension of Pfizer vaccines for recipients, who had got Covishield as their first dose. 

The Island yesterday sought an explanation from Dr. Herath as regards the inordinate delay in inoculation of those awaiting the second AstraZeneca jab. Dr. Herath said that administration of Pfizer was stopped on July 8 after the Health Ministry received an assurance from the WHO that 1.4 mn AztraZeneca stock would be available in the third week. Dr. Herath emphasized that if not for that assurance, the government wouldn’t have stopped using Pfizer. “Now, we are hopefully awaiting the delivery of the promised stock under Covax facility.” 

Dr. Herath said that the Health Ministry was in touch with the WHO in that regard. The Health Ministry spokesperson was responding to The Island query whether the issue at hand was taken up with the Japanese embassy.

The Japanese embassy in Colombo on July 13 announced that Japan would provide approximately 1.45 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine manufactured in Japan to Sri Lanka through the COVAX facility to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka. The embassy said that the vaccines were expected to be delivered during the coming weeks.  

Dr. Herath acknowledged that the sudden stopping of the well planned programme to vaccinate those who had received Covishield with Pfizer as the second dose somewhat derailed the operation. 

Responding to another query, Dr. Herath said that so far Sri Lanka had received 264,000 doses under the Covax project though the initial estimates indicated 4.5 mn doses in a quarter once the operation got underway.  

Dr. Herath emphasized that on the part of the health ministry and the government there was absolutely no effort to deceive those who received Covishield as first doze. Over 500,000 of those who had got Covishield first jab remained to be inoculated with the second AstraZeneca jab, Dr. Herath said, asserting that Sri Lanka was blessed with a functioning system to carry out the challenging task. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get the required supply of doses of Covishield as pledged by the WHO Dr. Herath said, assuring they would do whatever possible to inoculate those who had been deprived of Covishield second dose. 

Dr. Herath explained that disruption of the Covishield supply chain caused a major crisis here. The health ministry spokesman asserted that the unexplained long delay caused uncertainty and in a way undermined public confidence in the health sector.

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North and East to benefit from 1.6 mn Sinopharm doses donated by China

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with Chinese Ambassador in Colombo Qi Zhenhong (pic courtesy PMD)

China has donated another consignment of 1.6 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine to Sri Lanka to fight the pandemic. Two SriLankan flights, UL869 and UL865, carrying the vaccine arrived at the Katunayake Bandaranaike International Airport at 5.30 a.m., yesterday (27).

Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhong officially handed over the vaccines to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, yesterday (27).

In addition to these vaccines, a stock of syringes has also been donated. The vaccines were handed over to the Ministry of Health to be given to people over the age of 30 years in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. 72% of the vaccines used in the vaccination process in Sri Lanka is Sinopharm.

President Rajapaksa said that he highly appreciated the support provided by the Chinese Government for the control of COVID – 19 by donating 600,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines on March 31, 500,000 on May 26 and 1.6 million doses yesterday.

The President pointed out that by the end of August, all those over the age of 30 would be vaccinated and the tourism industry would be able to commence from September. “Therefore, the Chinese people are invited to visit Sri Lanka again”, the President said.

Ministers Pavithra Wanniarachchi and Douglas Devananda, Secretary to the President P.B. Jayasundera, Senior Advisor to President Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage, and the Political Officer of the Chinese Embassy Luo Chong was also present on the occasion.

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