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Numbers behind different COVID-19 vaccines



By M. C. M. Iqbal

The vaccines against COVID-19, available today, are based on different strategies and come with different numbers to indicate their performance. Many of us wish to know if one vaccine is better than the other. Two concepts underlying the performance of the vaccines are efficacy and effectiveness. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has an efficacy of 95 percent, the Moderna Vaccine is 94.5 percent and the Russian made Sputnik vaccine is over 90 percent. Does this mean some vaccines are better than the other? The short answer is no. All the approved vaccines are equally good. So, let us look at what these numbers mean.

These numbers refer to statistical calculations to interpret the results of vaccination trials conducted by the manufacturers of vaccines, following a prescribed format. The method of calculation was developed over 100 years ago by two statisticians, who published their results in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1915. They, Major Greenwood (Major is his first name and not a military title) and Udny Yule, were tasked with interpreting the results of immunization of British soldiers against typhoid and cholera, who were fighting in different regions of Europe and Asia favourable to the development of cholera epidemics. In a paper stretching over 82 pages, the authors developed the theoretical and mathematical background for calculating the efficacy of vaccines.

This article seeks to explain to the lay reader what these numbers imply and to bring out the differences between efficacy and effectiveness of a vaccine.

Efficacy and effectiveness

At first sight these two terms appear to be synonyms. However, in the world of vaccines and medicine, these two terms are not the same. Efficacy of a vaccine is how it performs under ideal and controlled conditions in a clinical trial (see below). During clinical trials, the outcome of vaccination is compared between a group of vaccinated people and another group given an inactive form of the vaccine (called a placebo). The effectiveness of a vaccine is how the vaccine performs in the real world – that is after the vaccine is approved by the regulatory agencies and you and I are vaccinated.

The efficacy of a vaccine is measured by the manufacturers under ideal conditions in a clinical trial where criteria are specified for selecting and excluding volunteers. These criteria are usually age groups, gender, ethnicity, geographical location and socio-economic standing. If the criteria are specific, then the effects of the vaccine or drug would not be applicable across the population. For example, if the COVID-19 vaccines are not tested on children below 18 years, then the approved vaccine cannot be used on children.

The effectiveness of a drug or vaccine is a measure of how well the drug or vaccine performs in real life, in a diverse population: Fitness geeks and couch potatoes, housewives and nurses, and farmers and office workers. Effectiveness is of relevance to the medical community and healthcare authorities who are treating the patients. Thus, studies on effectiveness would look at to what extent the vaccine is beneficial to the patient to prevent infection.

One may ask, why not simply look at the effectiveness of the vaccine? This is because if the participants in an initial trial of the vaccine are not carefully controlled, then it is difficult to interpret the outcome of the trial. We have many characteristics, which can potentially interfere with the outcome of a trial testing a vaccine. The person volunteering for the trial could be young or old, pregnant or not, a marathon runner or an average person and smoker or non-smoker. Thus, the volunteers selected for the trials are very similar within their groups with many criteria to exclude persons who could confuse the results (for example, an unhealthy person with other diseases would be excluded).

Efficacy of a vaccine asks the question ‘Does the vaccine work under ideal conditions?’ On the other hand, a study on the effectiveness of the same vaccine asks the question ‘Does vaccination work in the real world?

Clinical trials

Under normal circumstances, vaccines take many years of research and testing to be approved. The COVID-19 pandemic was unprecedented, and pharmaceutical companies embarked on a race against time to produce safe and effective vaccines. The genome of this coronavirus, which was discovered by Chinese scientists, in January 2020, was a major contribution to the development of the vaccines. At the moment there are 94 vaccines being tested on humans in clinical trials, 32 of which have reached the final stage of Phase 3 testing.

To obtain approval for a vaccine, the vaccine manufacturers go through a prescribed process to ensure that the vaccine is safe. All the countries have a national drug approval agency, who should approve the use of a drug or vaccine in that country. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States is an important regulatory agency, which has stringent criteria to approve medicines and drugs. In Sri Lanka, it is the National Medicines Regulatory Authority. COVID-19 vaccines are also assessed and approved by the WHO.

Initially, the vaccine is tested on cells in the laboratory and then given to animals, usually mice or monkeys. After this, if the mice or monkeys are happy, human volunteers are recruited to conduct the clinical trials, which is done in three phases. In the first phase, the vaccine is tested on a small group of people to determine the safety, dosage and ability to stimulate our immune system. If this is confirmed, the vaccine then moves into the Phase 2 stage where the safety of the vaccine is tested on hundreds of people who are split into different groups. Once these trials are successful, the vaccine moves to the final Phase 3 trials. Here thousands of people are recruited as volunteers. For the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine there were over 40,000 volunteers, above the age of 16, from different countries. This trial is more comprehensive, with the volunteers belonging to different age groups, physical fitness, ethnicities and geographical locations. The volunteers are divided into two groups. One group gets the real vaccine while the other group gets a fake vaccine or placebo (the syringe has just water). The volunteers would not know if he/she is getting the vaccine or a placebo and neither do the nurses and doctors giving the vaccine. This is called a double-blind clinical trial. Thus, no one knows, except those conducting the trial, who was vaccinated with what.

After some time, the volunteers, who fell sick with the coronavirus, are PCR tested to confirm if they are COVID-19 positive. The scientists will be on the lookout for any side effects of the vaccine; if they find any cause for concern the trial can be stopped temporarily to conduct investigations and remedy the problem. If the scientists are not satisfied, the trial would be abandoned. Once the results are in, the calculations are done, and all the details are submitted to the regulating authorities. The regulators would ask the manufacturers more questions and once they are satisfied, approval is given to manufacture and market the vaccine. To accelerate the process, such as now during the COVID-19 crises, Phase 1 and 2 may be combined and run in parallel.

Calculating efficacy

The calculations involved are quite simple once the data is collected. Let us assume that 50,000 volunteers were recruited for the vaccination trial. Half were given the vaccine and the other half a placebo. Let us assume that of the 25,000 who received the vaccine, 10 persons were infected, and of the other 25,000 who received the placebo, 200 were infected. Although the numbers of people infected are small, those in the placebo group are 20 times larger (see Table). The researchers are concerned with the relative risk between the groups. This is called the efficacy of the vaccine.

The risk of infection is calculated as follows.

What is the difference in the risk of infection between the vaccinated group and those who got the placebo? From the table this is, 0.80 percent – 0.04 percent = 0.76 percent.

Thus, the vaccine reduced the risk of infection by 0.76 percent, which looks quite small. This is what would happen if we are vaccinated. To understand this in terms of the risk of infection, if none were vaccinated, we look at the ratio of the Reduction in Infection (0.76 percent) to the Risk of infection (0.80 percent – those who got the fake vaccine). This is the Vaccine Efficacy (VE).

VE percent = Reduction in infection ÷ Risk of infection = 0.76 ÷ 0.80 = 95 percent

If this is still confusing, let us see what it means in a population of 100,000 persons who are vaccinated with a vaccine of 95 percent efficacy, and exposed to the virus. From the table above, the risk of infection for the vaccinated population is 0.04 percent, which translates to 40 persons (0.04 percent x 100,000). That is, we can expect that 40 persons would fall ill with an infection by the coronavirus and the rest of the vaccinated people may not develop an infection at all or develop an asymptomatic infection (you are infected but do not show symptoms) or get a mild disease.

(This example of calculating Vaccine Efficacy is adapted from an article by Dashiell Young-Saver in the New York Times of December 13, 2020, where the above calculation is explained in detail for students.)

What does efficacy mean?

The efficacy of a vaccine refers to two aspects. The first is how many of us are protected by the vaccine if we are exposed to the virus; this is given by the percentage. The vaccine also refers to different disease conditions it is capable of preventing. This could be causing an infection, mild disease, severe disease, hospitalisation, or death. This information can be found if one looks carefully at the statements issued by the vaccine manufacturer and regulatory agencies. For example, the statement by Pfizer-BioNTech states: Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, BNT162b2, was 91.3 percent effective against COVID-19 (symptomatic cases of COVID-19), measured seven days through up to six months after the second dose. The vaccine was 100 percent effective against severe disease as defined by the US centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and 95.3 percent effective against severe disease as defined by the US FDA.

The efficacy of a vaccine (VE) is the relative reduction of being infected, if we are vaccinated, compared to the placebo or unvaccinated group. If the vaccine is perfect, then the risk of being infected is totally eliminated, so that VE = 1 or it is 100 percent. On the other hand, if there is no difference in the number of people infected between the two groups, the vaccine has no efficacy, or it is zero. Even with a perfect vaccine, our capacity to acquire an infection is determined by our age, health and immunity status.

In short, efficacy is a statistical measurement based on clinical trials of the vaccine’s ability to prevent infection. The volunteers taking part in the trials are not a perfect sample or representative of the real world (for example, children and sick people do not take part). Is there a lower limit for the efficacy of a vaccine to be accepted? Under the present circumstances, the FDA said it would consider granting emergency approval if the vaccines showed even 50 percent efficacy; the vaccines that have received approval now show an efficacy of over 90 percent.


The effectiveness of the vaccine tells us how well the vaccine is performing among the population, in the real world, to prevent infection. The effectiveness of the vaccine depends on the impact it makes on society. After vaccination our immune system is primed to combat the coronavirus, reducing the multiplication of the virus in our body. This will gradually slow down the spread of the virus as more and more people are vaccinated. In other words, it is important that most if not all the people are vaccinated to have a large impact on the spread of the virus in society. Good examples are the smallpox vaccine, which completely eliminated the smallpox virus, and the polio vaccine, which has almost wiped out the polio virus except for a few small pockets in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Africa. Thus, the effectiveness of a vaccine looks at the medical and societal importance of the outcome.

Here is the above in a nutshell. The percentage numbers given with a vaccine refers to its efficacy – its ability to prevent an infection developing into a serious condition, determined under controlled clinical trials. Vaccines do not prevent infection – they prevent the infection from developing into a severe disease. Once we are vaccinated, our immune system is activated. If we are infected by the coronavirus, the virus has a small window of time to multiply, before it is eliminated by our immune system. This means we can release virus particles from our body, but much less than if we were not vaccinated. The message is we should get vaccinated with the first available vaccine and still wear our masks when going outside, even if we are vaccinated. The chances of ending up in a hospital is low and the chances of ending up in the ICU is very low. There is always a chance.

‘Tis impossible to be sure of anything but Death and Taxes (Christopher Bullock, 1716).

(M.C.M. Iqbal is Associate Research professor, Plant and Environmental Science, National Institute of Fundamental Studies, Hanthane Road, Kandy, and can be reached at


Zimmer, C. New York Times Nov. 20, 2020. Two companies say their vaccines are 95 percent effective. What does that mean?

Haelle,T. Association of Health Care Journalists. October 22, 2020. Know the nuances of vaccine efficacy when covering Covid-19 trials.

Greenwood, M., & Yule, G. U. (1915). The Statistics of Anti-typhoid and Anti-cholera Inoculations, and the Interpretation of such Statistics in general. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 8 (Sect Epidemiol State Med), 113–194.

Food and Drug Administration, US Department of Health and Human Services.

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‘Nitro Raja’: Magic Fertiliser arrives!




The consignment of nano urea, much spoken about produced by Indian Farmer Fertiliser Corporation (IFFCO}, had just arrived! Locally it is named “Nitro Raja!” Can the imported Raja settle our fertiliser woes, where the ‘local Raja’ has hitherto failed?

What is nano urea, many people ask! For the layman it may best be described as something akin to “Seeni- polkohu” or “Bombai-motai”, where sugar particles are attached to a fibrous material. Similarly, in nano urea, the urea molecules are attached to oligosaccharide (examples, starch and sugar) molecules. This greatly enhances the efficacy of the applied urea to crops.

The advantage is that, whereas urea when applied to the soil, often much of it is wasted through leaching, run-off in rain water and vaporisation, losses are very small with the nano formulation. Even normal urea if applied to plants as a leaf spray in good weather, the losses are far less than application to the soil. Up to a maximum of 5% of chemical nutrients can be applied as foliar spray, and in fact urea is, for example, routinely applied in tea plantations usually mixed with zinc sulphate, which research has reported, to boost crop yields substantially.

Regrettably the imported consignment apparently is exclusively for rice cultivation. Is it because the tea growers were not as vociferous and violent as the rice farmers in their demonstrations and ministerial effigy-burning? Ideally, for the tea growers, too, urea is critically important. As most would have applied all nutrients over the years, the soil reserves of nutrients should suffice to tide over an year or more except for nitrogen, the most yield determining nutrient; and the current huge tea crop losses could have been saved, if at least urea in whichever form were supplied to the tea industry.

The critical issue is, however, whether at the recommended rate, the imported nano urea could effectively meet the crop nitrogen demand. It is imported in 500 ml bottles and each bottle content, the advertisement says, is equivalent to a 50 kilo bag of normal fertiliser urea. Nevertheless, it is further stated in the advertisement that the contents has a nitrogen(N) concentration of only 4%, whereas normal urea has 46%.

Meeting Demand?

Let us see whether the supplied nano urea can meet the crop nitrogen demand at the prescribed application rate. The national average yield of rice is now 5 tons /hectare. Therefore, an average rice crop by way of grain and straw removes about 80 kg/ha, and the normal rate of application of nitrogen for a good rice crop is 100kg/ha . So, in whatever way the crop is fertilised (with nano urea or normal urea) a 5 ton rice crop/ha should remove a minimum of 80 kg of nitrogen. Theoretically, however, the recommended nano-urea formulation imported can only provide 20 grams of nitrogen per 500 ml bottle, and to provide the requisite nitrogen of 80kg/ha to the crop, therefore, 4000 such bottles should be applied! The cost of a 500 ml bottle is reported to be Indian Rs 240, which is about local Rs 500. Theoretically then, the nano fertiliser per crop to provide the entire crop nitrogen requirement should cost two million rupees! Can this nano urea then practically meet the total crop nitrogen demand ?

The crux of the matter is that, in India, where nano urea is used, usually a basal application of conventional urea is made to the crop, and nano urea is only sprayed at mid- maturity as a foliar spray for boosting the crop.

The other serious concern is that when nano urea is spayed as the crop is growing, the emerging weed growth in the absence, now, of the two standard herbicides used in rice, one before crop emergence (usually Propanil) and the other ( MCPA )when the crop is in early growth(post emergent), could be substantial. Nearly 95% of the rice growers broadcast seed, and hand weeding is difficult in such crops. Row seeding is highly labour demanding and row seeders are costly. Much of these weeds are highly competitive C4 grasses and sedges, which too will benefit from the foliar nano urea spray and increase the competitiveness, reducing the crop yield!

One of the growing concerns today, globally, in the fertiliser scenario is, not whether it is organic or chemical, but with the grain production anticipated to increase by at least 40% in the next decade and 60% of the nitrogenous fertiliser used for it, the devastating environmental AND pollution issue . Many argue the answer is in cutting down meat consumption as bulk of the grain in the developed world is used as animal feed!

However, there is already technology generated for improving N management practices at the farm level, and nitrogen uptake efficiency (NUE) increases of 36% and 32% have been achieved in the U.S and Japan respectively in the last few decades; one of them being nano fertilisers. With novel plant breeding and fertisier technologies many scientists envision reaching 90-100% NUE in the near future.

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Distorting Buddhism



By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

Two recent glaring distortions of the life of the Buddha, in Sinhala newspapers, has compelled me to pen these thoughts. Contrary to the high standards maintained by most of the English language newspapers, I have been appalled by the journalistic standards of some of their Sinhala counterparts. True, Sinhala is a difficult language but if it is to be simplified, it should be done with the consensus of experts than by gross disregard of typography at the whims and fancies of editors. In spite of this, we love to watch programmes surveying Sinhala newspapers for a multitude of reasons and it has become a daily routine in our lives though, unfortunately, some of these programmes have of late become crude political tools and means for the glorification of some presenters. Headlines in Sinhala newspapers are a better indicator of ‘how the wind is blowing’ and, more importantly, the sharpest ‘weapon’ attacking politicians, sarcasm, is at its best in the poems and cartoons. Indian Prime Minister Modi honoured Sri Lanka and recognised the importance of Sri Lanka in Buddhism, by inviting a delegation from Sri Lanka to be the first to land officially at the newly developed Kushinagar International airport. A delegation consisting of 100 high-ranking Buddhist monks and some Ministers, led by Minister Namal Rajapaksa, arrived there on the inaugural SriLankan Airlines flight for the opening ceremony on Wednesday 20th, the Vap full moon Poya day.

A headline in one of the Sinhala newspapers, on 20th, stated that an airport in Prince Siddhartha’s place of birth was to be opened that day! How could the reporter confuse the place of Buddha’s Parinibbana with the place of birth Lumbini, which is in Nepal? The following day, another Sinhala newspaper, reporting on the opening ceremony with a beautiful photograph of our Monks walking in procession, had a poem as the headline. Unfortunately, the poem stated that Sangha with “Nava Arahadi Guna” were in procession. Even a child knows that the correct term is “Nava Arahadi Budu Guna” which refers to the Nine Noble Qualities of the Buddha! Considering that on many an occasion our editor has saved me from embarrassment by correcting inadvertent mistakes I have made; I find it puzzling that these glaring mistakes were not picked up by the respective editors. In many recent ‘Quiz shows’, Muslim children have shown surprising depth of knowledge about Buddhism and the life of the Buddha. Considering this, is it not appalling that reporters and headline writers make such inexcusable mistakes? To add insult to injury, not even the newspaper reviewers picked up on these howlers. Perhaps, they do not understand what a review means! I am beginning to wonder whether there are deliberate attempts at distortion as, for quite some time, there have been spurious claims made on the life of the Buddha, often by the members of the Sangha itself.

Instead of following the path the Great Teacher showed, some of them want to bolster their argument that Sri Lanka is the birthplace of the Buddha, in spite of confirmed archaeological evidence to the contrary. Recently, a friend of mine forwarded what appeared to be a clip of a news item, titled “The lawsuit uncovering the world’s biggest colonial scandal – Rediscovery of Bhudha’s true home land”. It stated that a lawsuit had been filed in the UK courts, by a Buddhist monk living in Norway, requesting that Sri Lanka be declared the place of birth of the Buddha and compensation be paid for British archaeologists distorting facts. This took me completely by surprise as I had not heard of any such action and my suspicions were aroused because there was no indication what the news channel was. I sent the following message to my friend:

“Did you forward this because you believe in what is stated?” and I got a vague reply. Fortunately, another friend forwarded the same message with additional information in the form of an audio clip, addressed to a Nayaka Priest in Sri Lanka, by a Bhikkhu living in London wherein he states that there is no such action pending and the person referred to is a person connected to the LTTE, living in Norway, pretending to be a Buddhist priest! When I googled to get details of the organisation this Norwegian Bhikkhu represents, there was no information about the person concerned, but there was a page seeking contributions!Maybe, this is an imposter out to make a fast buck, but we have enough ‘robed-men’ demonstrating behaviour in total contrast to the teachings of the Buddha. During the teacher’s strike, one of these who leads a nurse’s trade union, though not having any nursing experience at all, took the leader of the teacher’s union, who has not done even a day’s teaching, to the Prime Minister for a settlement.

Then there is the dirty spectacle of two politicians in robes fighting for a parliamentary seat! One of the fundamental teachings of the Buddha is “Tanhaya Jayati Soko”—Greed begets sorrow—but their greed seems endless! Interestingly, one these distinguishes himself by being in all the major parties and is now prepared to go to courts to retain his seat.We have Sangha Nayakas, “Adhi Karana” Judicial Sangha Nayakas but nothing seems to be happening to these men in robes who are a disgrace, to say the least, to the Buddha. I am told that an ‘Adhi Karana’ Sangha Nayaka for the UK also has been appointed recently. I cannot understand why all these Bhikkhus are driven by greed for positions. Perhaps, it is excusable if they at least serve a purpose. Buddhist principles are distorted and destroyed whilst those in authority are in a slumber. I do tender my humble apologies to many Buddhist monks around the world who render a great service in the true spirit of the Dhamma, and do hope these comments, in no way, hurt them. In fact, we are very fortunate to have three Venerable Monks in our local Vihara whom we can worship without any hesitation. I often wonder, whether the future of Buddhism is in the West!

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Running against the Wind: Remembering Engineer Lalith Vidanapathirana



Phidias, the great sculptor was immersed in work. It was 447 BC, and Phidias was given the mission to sculpt a massive statue of the goddess of wisdom and war –Athena by a statesman of Athens – Pericles. He was working high above ground, behind the head of Athena for a long time. A passerby, who knew little about sculptures wanted to ridicule Phidias and shouted at him… ‘’O great sculptor Phidias..! Who will ever want to know what kind of fine works you are creating up there..? No one is going to climb this massive statue and have a look”. Phidias had a simple answer. “I will…” Men of this nature, who will put everything… heart and soul to a task, given to them when no one is looking are rare. Yet, we at Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) are fortunate to have many such men among us, at every level of the organisation. Men who will silently work under trying conditions to keep the country lit up and active, without craving for attention and glory. Leaving the master sculptor Phidias in the distant past, let me tell the story of one such man from the not so distant past.

I first encountered him at the Deputy General Manager’s office of CEB in Galle in 1987. He was an energetic Construction Engineer and we were a group of trainees from University of Moratuwa, two years into the degree programme. We were comfortably seated around a table, solving various problems. Suddenly we heard a strong voice, which appeared to carry a lot of authority. What are you trainees doing here? It was a command that was so direct and clear. We had no business indoors; we should be outdoors. Thus begun a spell of constant engagement in various projects in and around Galle. We learnt much about electricity distribution and about what to expect in a career as electrical engineers.

Time passed and we met again in 1997 now both of us working for the same organisation, CEB, at a training workshop on Power System Protection. He caught my attention as the most active participant shooting so many practical questions. He instantly recognised me and exclaimed that it is so very nice to have me in CEB. Then our paths crossed again in 2006, this time at a training workshop on wind energy where I was the coordinator. I remember his enthusiastic participation, posing practical questions at the foreign resource persons. Among the trainees, he benefited more than all the younger participants I reckoned, even at that early stage of wind power development in Sri Lanka. CEB then had only 3 MW of capacity from wind power and now, 103 MW capable of providing the annual electricity requirements of more than 400,000 Sri Lankan homes.

This story is about the Engineer Lalith Vidanapathirana who made a massive contribution to make it happen on the ground.

Then he went on overseas leave to assist the newly formed Iraqi Government to rebuild Iraq’s electricity infrastructure. This was a UNDP assignment which benefited Iraq, as he was able to fully develop teams capable of shouldering the massive reconstruction burden, after years of conflict. The battered Iraqi engineers and technicians had great respect and love to Lalith. He rebuilt their skills from ground zero to re-establish and operate the electricity network in those conflict affected regions in Iraq. Most of the tasks he undertook were way out of the narrow scope of the UNDP consultants’ brief. With Lalith’s leadership. Iraqi men were ready to do it themselves.

When Lalith returned to Sri Lanka, I worked with him in a boundary metering project, and we had a lot of time together. This is when we attempted to scale up the success of the first wind power project in Hambantota under the guidance of Mr. Samarasinghe and Mr. Ayiradasa, as a 30MW wind project in Kalpitiya. We did everything in our capacity to implement this, but it wasn’t a success.

During these days I learnt about his early career at Samuel & Sons, the famed engineering outfit of colonial heritage, where he practiced his heavy engineering. I was told that he was a formidable force in many construction projects implemented by Samuel & Sons. With this knowhow, he was a much sought after person in CEB. He caught the attention of his superiors as one of those ‘doers’ who fronted difficult assignments. Actually, it was all Lalith was about – leading. Be it the transmission lines destroyed by insurgents or distribution systems torn apart, he was willing to lead from the front.

Then on a beautiful day in 2016, Lalith called me and asked whether I would join him to build the wind power plant in Mannar. By that time my colleagues Kumara and Thusitha has done a sizable job in Mannar, initiating all-important bird survey and other pre-project development work. I told Lalith, I will join if you agreed to lead the project and train young engineers. Lalith, without a hint of hesitation, agreed.

Here we were, once again in the same boat, but not in the calm seas as during the boundary metering project. Had nothing to start with, but Lalith being the doer, managed to amass all the resources required to initiate this task within a few months. He was very active, and barged into offices of his superiors with impunity and sometimes even to the Board room, to get things done. Not for him, but for the project, for public good.

He stood by his team through struggles and fought for what he believed in with the sincere motive to get things done. He gave all of us absolute freedom to work; in the way we liked, but at his pace. So, we accomplished all pre-project development tasks within a short period of time and more importantly was able to build and develop capacity within the team. We saved a few million Dollars and a whole year of project gestation period because he trusted our ability. He was truly an engineer. He never minced his words or give way to the opponents, standing firm for a public cause, taking a resolute stand on issues. We learnt many things from Lalith, engineering and otherwise, all of which cannot be enumerated here.

The 103 MW, the largest-ever wind power plant in Sri Lanka, was about to enter the construction phase. Then came the devastating news about a serious illness he had developed. The illness reduced his mobility, but he made it a point to attend all important events. He had a dream, just to see one turbine erected “before I go” he would tell us. He did not wait that long, he only lived to see the selection of a leading turbine manufacturer as the main contractor. However, he fulfilled his dream to see his son’s graduation ceremony, albeit his failing health. He left us on 22nd October 2018.

Mannar wind power project is now a reality. I stood diminutive under the massive wind turbines standing tall on the Mannar shoreline and running against the wind, which reminded me of the struggles made by many unsung heroes who genuinely contributed to it. As the sun disappeared beyond the horizon, painting the Western skies in crimson, the beautiful song by Bob Seger started playing deep within me…

We were running against the Wind…

We were young and strong, we were running against the Wind…

Well, I am older now but still running against the Wind…

against the Wind… against the Wind… against the Wind…

This by all means is a feeble attempt to share my memories of a man of integrity, dedication and practical approach. It is also an attempt to appreciate and recognise the lives of many other Sri Lankans, who are still running against the Wind. It is also to remind the young, not to get swept away by Winds. For his impressive run of life was always against the Wind.

May he attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana.

Ajith Alwis

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