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Govt. should reduce expenditure on infrastructure development temporarily to feed people faced with hunger

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We live in a highly commercialized world where making maximum profit is the measure of success, and not the outcomes and their real benefit to humanity with minimal harm to life and the environment. In addition in Sri Lanka there is a high degree of exploitation of both the farmer and the consumer by excessive profiteering by middlemen, such as mill owners and traders. The result is that the farmers are suffering and are facing hunger. The vast mass of consumers are also faced with hunger.

Society led by the scientific community has to be on constant vigilance to ensure the safety of all living things. It was with great satisfaction that a majority of people in Sri Lanka welcomed the President’s demand for the immediate cessation of the use of agrochemicals (an accepted cause of various serious diseases such as cancer and kidney disease) and the switch over to the use of organic fertilizer. An open and valuable discussion has resulted, especially with regard to the outcomes and implementation.

The powerful chemicals lobby says that yields will drop due to the fact that the hybrid seeds used and the chemical fertilizers complement each other, and the pesticide/weedicide lobby joins in, as they too will lose much income.

I am happy that the local scientific community is by and large for the switch over to organic farming. The best proposal appears to be that of Dr. C. M. Wijeyaratne, Dr. Lionel Weerakoon, Buddhi Jayasuriya and some others. It envisages “a planned shift to Ecological Farming” within the farm itself, without just “adding organic fertilizer” from outside. Setting this up in the country results in a wide network of farmer organizations to coordinate this shift, and to ensure that the farmer and the consumer get a good deal. (The LSSP has all along promoted the setting up and linking of farmer and consumer cooperatives to eliminate exploitation by the middleman). These three have proposed a gradual step-wise process based on the FAO recommendations while stressing the use of appropriate technology and the importance of good water management.

An excellent strategy is included for the plantation sector, “Employee By Out of plantations for improving productivity, production and conservation”. The LSSP has always promoted the idea of worker participation in management, but this takes it a step further giving the workers a share in the ownership of the enterprise,(which has also been a part of the LSSP program). The importance of further developing animal husbandry is also stressed. As part of the implementation mechanism they propose establishing a Sustainable Agriculture Development Authority (SADA) which I appreciate. This would ensure maximum benefits to the farmer and the consumer and ensure that the replacement of harmful chemicals by organic inputs will be ensured. I am hoping to go along with them to present this valuable set of proposal to the President to obtain his support for its implementation.

As a further step in controlling the major problems of hunger among our people I would also appeal to the President and the Prime Minister to reduce the expenditure on infrastructure development temporarily in order to provide food for all those who are faced with hunger.

Besides the acute problem of hunger the major problem facing our people is that of the Covid-19 pandemic. This is now once again becoming a major problem with a marked increase in the number of cases and deaths. The introduction of the Delta variant of the virus has increased the threat to humanity. This causes more severe illness with a higher proportion of deaths, and also spreads much quicker. I urged the Minister of Health and her officials to accept the fact that there is community spread of the Covid infection and that it is not confined to identified clusters. This needs a community based strategy for its control. I suggest that there should be a committee of party leaders set up in Parliament to interact with the Minister to get maximum support countrywide to get the message across that this is a National problem.

This would enable the Covid Committees to be established down to village and slum levels and procure the cooperation of everybody. This should emphasize the understanding and implementation of the health guidelines (like the regular wearing of masks, social distancing and the constant washing of hands with soap and water). These committees should ensure that everybody fully implements these health practices. This will be vital if there is an upsurge of the Delta variant of the virus. These committees can also identify possible cases as soon as they appear and get them hospitalized after PCR testing and help in the tracing and quarantining of contacts.

The committee would also conduct intensive health education so that everyone is fully aware of the need for the above mentioned action. The Government would then be able to carry out an intensive and effective control program across the country. If the situation gets worse the government will have to act sternly to ensure that people do not form crowds anywhere and that even at home visitors are kept out. All workplaces should use minimal staff, observing the health rules and confine the group meetings to five persons.

The education of children maintained with the use of digital communication is desirable. The cost of this is heavy and the Government may not able to fund that program widely. It may be mainly richer children who will benefit from a such a scheme. For the other children the best option would be the use of television channels. If indicated, specially for senior students, there could be small classes held according to the health rules on important subjects with the presence of the teacher.

The vaccination program is being done fairly widely, but in a haphazard manner. The vaccines to be used in the country should be carefully chosen and it would be preferable if RNA based vaccines are avoided in view of the possibility of future genetic consequences. Considering their limited level and time of protection, I would use vaccines mainly to protect the vulnerable group (elderly and those with chronic illnesses). The scare about a post-Covid syndrome affecting children does not need immunization of children. This is a relatively rare occurrence in a few children and it fits into the pattern of the Kawasaky disease which is seen as an occasional event with many virus infections. Large scale vaccination is costly and not necessary. Further the vaccine against the Alpha variant is not very effective against the Delta variant.

In the present situation facing the country, the major emphasis must be placed on providing food to the hungry and also to reducing the spread of the Covid-19 virus (specially the Delta variant), and the proper treatment in hospital of those who are seriously affected. But if there is proper health education and strict enforcement of the health rules then the problem itself can be prevented.

 

Prof. Tissa Vitarana



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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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