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Health Minister tells WHO saving lives and protecting the population has become Sri Lanka’s highest priority

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Saving lives and protecting the population has become Sri Lanka’s highest priority, says Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella.

Addressing the 74th conference of the WHO’s South East Asia Region via zoom technology, the Minister said that the government was doing its best to contain the pandemic through a combination of proven public health and social measures and accelerated Covid-19 vaccination, especially for the priority and vulnerable population.

 The text of Minister Rambukwella’s address: Sri Lanka would like to congratulate Dr. Poonam Singh, the Regional Director, for the excellent and comprehensive report on our collective work in improving health and well-being in the region.

 My sincere thanks go to the Regional Director for the strong support of the WHO extended to my country at all times, and especially during this challenging time. Many of our public health achievements in the past years have been achieved in partnership and with the strong technical guidance of the WHO.

In 2020, our health system has been put to the test by the COVID-19 pandemic and impacted severely on the economy. Despite this, Sri Lanka has made important strides. Our response was swift, coordinated and guided by the Sri Lanka Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan. At the same time, we were able to sustain the delivery of essential health services through innovative approaches – medicine delivery through postal services, outdoor mobile clinics in lockdown areas, reorientation of family planning services, mental health drugs delivery and services at the community level, among others.

Sri Lanka with the support of the WHO has leveraged the power of digital technology to train and mentor health staff through virtual platforms such as the NCD Learning Hub and learning management system linking more than 40 training institutions and to conduct meetings with peripheral health authorities.  In addition, an innovative platform for real-time monitoring of Covid-19 using a mobile App was developed for health staff and the public.

To ensure access to quality and affordable medicines, the regulatory capacity of National Medicine Regulatory Authority is further enhanced through the implementation of an institutional development plan and benchmarking as well as development of National Medicines Policy 2020-2025.

Similar to the trend in the region, we are experiencing this year, the highest reported number of cases and deaths so far, with the spread of the Delta variant. We are doing our best to contain it through a combination of proven public health and social measures and accelerated Covid-19 vaccination, especially for the priority and vulnerable population – As of 5th September, we have vaccinated over 20 years 85.87% of the population with one dose and 61.94% with both doses.

For Sri Lanka, saving lives and protecting our population is our highest priority. We highly appreciate your tireless efforts for fair and equitable access to vaccines through the COVAX facility; and for the life-saving medical equipment and supplies. We highly value the strong and continuous support from the WHO Country office, South East Asia Regional Office and the WHO Headquarters, in responding to the demands of the pandemic and in ‘building back better’ the Sri Lankan health system towards achieving the goal of universal health coverage.



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GL follows up Udaya’s initiative, negotiates concessionary crude oil supplies with UAE

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Balance-of-payment crisis continues to stagger govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The United Arab Emirates (UAD) has agreed to discuss a possible arrangement to provide Sri Lanka crude oil on concessionary terms in the face of the country experiencing a severe balance-of-payments crisis, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris took up the matter with UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, on the sidelines of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. Prof. Peiris is on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s delegation to the UNGA.

In late August, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila sought the intervention of the Acting Head of the UAE Embassy in Sri Lanka, Saif Alanofy. Minister Gammanpila also met the Iranian Ambassador in Colombo in a bid to explore the possibility of obtaining oil from Iran on concessionary arrangements.

The Foreign Ministry statement on Prof. Peiris meeting with the UAE Minister dealt with the financial crisis experienced by the country. “Foreign Minister Peiris explained the challenges Sri Lanka is experiencing in respect of its external budget, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prof. Peiris focused in particular on the country’s requirement for oil and requested concessionary arrangements from the UAE.”

The Foreign Ministry quoted Minister Al Jaber as having said that the UAE would be happy to assist and proposed the establishment of a strategic framework to take the process forward.”

The ministry stressed that both sides agreed to follow-up rapidly.

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila earlier told The Island that concessionary arrangements were required to procure oil as part of an overall strategy to overcome the developing crisis.

Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Attorney-at-law Gammanpila said that increase in fuel prices in the second week of June this year was only a part of the government’s response to heavy pressure on foreign reserves. Minister Gammanpila said that the decision was taken close on the heels of dire warning from the Central Bank.

Minister Gammanpila said that in spite of foreign currency crisis, the government ensured an uninterrupted supply of fuel. According to him, Sri Lanka spent as much as USD 3.5 to 5 bn annually on oil imports depending on the world market prices.

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President attends 9/11 commemoration in NY

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday attended the special commemorative event near the Manhattan Memorial in the United States to mark the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks in Washington and New York.

The terrorist attacks took place on September 11, 2001, targeting the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defence.

Coinciding with the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism and the 9/11 Memorial Museum jointly organised the event. Other Heads of State and government representatives, who were in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, were also present at the event to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in those attacks.

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FSP calls on govt. allies not to pretend to oppose adverse deal with US firm

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By Anuradha Hiripitiyage

Due to the secret agreement signed with US firm New Fortress Energy, Sri Lanka would soon face a situation akin to the one already faced by Ukraine, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) predicted yesterday.

“Sri Lanka is trying to reduce its dependency on coal and switch over to LNG. With this in mind, several coal and diesel power plants are to be converted into LNG in the coming decade. Now, we will entirely depend on the US to provide us with LNG to power these plants. Given that the US intends to control the seas in which Sri Lanka is placed strategically, they will not let us off the hook once they establish their foothold here. We are in deep trouble,” FSP Propaganda Secretary, Duminda Nagamuwa said.

Nagamuwa said that some constituents of the government were pretending that they opposed the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant to New Fortress Energy. “But this is not the time for theatrics but for concrete action”, he said.

Nagamuwa said that the agreement between the government and US Company New Fortress Energy to construct a new offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving, storage and regasification terminal at Kerawalapitiya as well as the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant had to be scrapped.

“Even government ministers agree that the agreement was not discussed with them. Several affiliates of the government are trying to convince the people that they are fighting this decision from inside. However, past experience has shown that when push comes to shove they will stay with the government. They must show the leaders of the government that they are not puppets,” he said.

Nagamuwa said that if those affiliated to the government were serious in their opposition to undermining Sri Lanka’s energy security they should show their commitment by doing something concrete.

The Yugadanavi Power Station at Kerawalapitiya already produced 300 MWs of energy and there was a plan to build another 350 MW plant there. The US Company had now been allowed to build an offshore LNG receiving, storage, and regasification terminal and to provide LNG to the existing Power Station and the new 350 MW power plant to be built, he said.

“Now we are under the power of the US. We will soon be facing the plight of Ukraine,” he said.

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