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One Certain Winner. One Certain Loser

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

The most important presidential election in the history of the United States is currently in progress. Neither President Trump nor Vice President Biden has been to able make a legitimate claim to the White House as yet. As of Friday morning, the score sheet stands: Biden 253 electoral college votes; Trump 213. The magic number to win the presidency is 270 electoral college votes. The final result certified by the state election authorities will likely not be available till next week, but predictions based on voting trends already have Biden anointed as the 46th President of the United States.

Vice President Biden enjoys a record lead of over 4 million votes in the popular vote, with the highest number of votes ever cast in American history. In every other democracy in the world, unburdened as they are with an antiquated electoral college system, Biden would have been declared the decisive winner by now.

Votes in four states are being tabulated, and are too close to call. Biden is leading in two states (Nevada and Arizona), and Trump in two (Pennsylvania and Georgia). Biden holds probably decisive leads in Arizona and Nevada, and has been chipping at the Trump leads in Pennsylvania and Georgia all Thursday night; it is most likely that he will win all four, which will give him 306 electoral college votes, the exact number won by Trump in 2016.

In a democracy, the main goal of the government should be to make voting as easy as possible, so that the voices of all voters could be clearly heard. Not so in the “Trump democracy”, or, perhaps more accurately, the “Putin kleptocracy” that America has become during the past four years. The Republicans, especially in states under their control, have been working assiduously on voter suppression by Gerrymandering and other means; and vilifying voting rules, like mail-in voting, which they feel go against them. Mail-in and absentee voting are usually taken advantage of by the vulnerable, the underprivileged and the poor, who are more likely to vote Democratic, especially during a raging pandemic.

President Trump, in his inimitable and disingenuous style, made an illegitimate claim, announcing on Wednesday night that he had won the election. His actual words: “To me, this is a very sad moment, and we will win this. And as far as I am concerned, I already have.” Trump insisted that counting should stop immediately in the states he was currently leading, Pennsylvania, Georgia and North Carolina; while, amazingly, demanding that counting be continued in the states that he was trailing, Nevada and Arizona. Typical Trump logic, imposing voting restrictions which will ensure a win for him. There are videos of armed Trump supporters protesting at election centers in Pennsylvania where Trump is leading, chanting, “Stop the counting”; and Trumpers at election centers in Arizona, where Trump is lagging, shouting, “Count that vote”!

If Trump remains consistent in his demands to “stop the counting” immediately, Biden will win Nevada and Arizona, where he is leading, which will put him at 270 electoral college votes, enough for him to be declared the 46th President of the United States.

Speaking to a few hundred of his supporters inside the East Room at the White House, where they had gathered to follow the results, Trump described post-election counting as “a major fraud in our nation”, and threatened to take his case to the Supreme Court. He reiterated these baseless election fraud claims without the slightest evidence during a White House briefing on Thursday night, accusing his “political foes” of voter suppression, election fraud, and trying to steal the election from him. The Commander-in Chief made the most egregious and misleading statements, saying, “This is a case where they are trying to steal an election, they are trying to rig an election, and we cannot let that happen”. It was not clear who the “they” were: Democrats? State election officials and volunteers? And the “we”? The Trump administration? The sycophant Attorney General William Barr? Putin? The KKK?

Almost as vitally important as the run for the presidency are two other races being conducted concurrently during this election, for control of the House of Representatives and the Senate. As results stand, Democrats will retain control of the House, though with a reduced majority. Nancy Pelosi will continue to be the Speaker. Democratic hopes of flipping the Senate were not realized. They have picked up just one Senate seat so far, the Republicans will retain control of the Senate, with Mitch McConnell in charge. So the D.C. political power structure will be similar to that faced by President Obama in 2008, with a Senate majority ruthlessly determined to pursue a Republican agenda in the face of a Democratic presidency. Trump makes no claims of election fraud in the Senate and House races, as the votes have been largely favoring Republicans.

Although the results have not been officially certified, there is no doubt that Vice President Biden has already won at least the 270 votes necessary to win the White House. However, many of the final states to be called, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania, were within a margin which will trigger a recount, while Trump has demanded recounts in Wisconsin and Michigan, which Biden has won by majorities outside the recount margin. Trump has also initiated a slew of lawsuits, most of them so frivolous and so small that they will make no difference to the ultimate outcome. He has threatened that he will use the powers of the Supreme Court to overthrow the election if Biden wins the presidency. The Trump “militia” is at the ready to wreak Trump’s vengeance at his command. So the dust of this election may not settle for a few weeks more. After it does, the election results will be confirmed, the violence caused by the Trump militia will be overcome, Trump will be dragged screaming from the White House and Vice President Biden will be installed as the President of the United States at his inauguration on January 21, 2021. Whether Trump will be taken from the White House direct to prison is not immediately clear. And we would have seen the last of Trump’s crime family and cronies; Ivanka and Kushner, Donald Jnr. and Eric, Giuliani, Stephen Miller, to name a few.

If, by some twist of fate, Trump defies all predictions and legitimately wins re-election, this column will vanish in a dense cloud of ignominy. And the writer may have to plead for the security of the Witness Protection Program!

McConnell’s Senate and a compliant Supreme Court will prevent Biden from making any significant measures, in expanding Obamacare, in quelling the pandemic and in restoring economic progress. The one hope is that Republican lawmakers in the House and the Senate, freed from the threat of Trump’s tweeting fury, may summon the necessary courage to work with President Biden and their Democratic colleagues, for the good of the country. A hope for bipartisan politics, admittedly a slender one.

The biggest winner of this election is the American electorate, which broke all voting records with their participation, even during a raging pandemic. The apathy in the past of the American people to be involved in the electoral process was evident. Voter participation in presidential and other elections rarely reached 60%, an abysmal number for a nation which pretends to serve as an example to developing countries which have chosen to embrace the democratic system.

 

The US is currently on track to the highest voter turnout in history, with 160 million votes, or over 70% of the electorate. This represents an increase of nearly 20% compared to the 136 million votes cast in 2016. Also, all praise to the officials and volunteers in the election process throughout the nation, who have worked tirelessly to ensure a free and fair election. Increased participation in the most important process in a democracy, especially among the younger generations, indicates that the greatest democracy in the world is not quite dead, in spite of all Donald Trump’s efforts to murder it over the past four years.

Strangely, the biggest loser in this election is also the American people. It is inconceivable that over 60 million Americans, or nearly half the electorate, voted for the re-election of a racist, ignorant and incompetent president. They had also enabled him to run the greatest democracy in the world to the ground for four years, to the cusp of transforming the most powerful nation in the world to a tin-pot dictatorship, beholden to Russia.

I remember watching that satirist/comedian par excellence, Jon Stewart, the host of The Daily Show, the night President Obama was elected the first black president of the USA in 2008. He signed off by saying: “At last, we are who we say we are.” Alas, he was mistaken. The Trump cult of today resembles more closely what “we are” today.

The election of an African American in 2008 to the presidency brought to the surface the resentment of a large percentage of white Americans, fearful of losing the white privilege they had enjoyed for centuries. Resentment which increased with eight years of a flawless presidency which rescued the American economy from the dregs of a recession Obama inherited from Bush in 2008; a black man, the epitome of compassion, honor and integrity, who presided brilliantly over a booming economy of 72 months’ continuous growth and dwindling unemployment, without a whiff of personal, financial or political scandal. This pathological resentment and insecurity resulted in the election of Donald Trump, the complete antithesis of President Obama in every way.

This election showed what a large slice of white American people really are, when they enabled Trump to take a once wonderful democracy to the brink of disaster by his despicable racism and vulgarity, colossal ignorance and homicidal incompetence. Trump has proved inconclusively the assessment of President Lyndon Johnson, who said, in 1964, “If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored black man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him someone to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you”.

That “lowest white man” emerged in 2015. He kept mocking and degrading the best black man, feeding the inferiority complex of millions of insecure white Americans. And they let this vile man “empty their pockets”. Hell, they emptied their pockets for him!

Whoever wins or steals this election, America has gone back to the bad old days of racial prejudice and white supremacy of the pre-1950s. Perhaps many of them always lived in that alternate racist reality; maybe the progress made in social and economic justice since 1964 has merely been a mirage.

It’s going to be a long, hard climb back to Make America Great Again. Getting rid of Trump was an important start to this arduous journey.

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Features

A year into Rajapaksa presidency amidst Covid-19 pandemic

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by Harim Peiris

The Rajapaksa administration completed its first year in office, a few days ago, with Sri Lanka being in the midst of a raging Covid-19 second wave, which has seen confirmed cases of the virus in the country, pass the 20,000 mark, with the highly populated and economically crucial Western Province, being the new epicentre.

Twelve months, since the historic and momentous victory of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and its presidential candidate, have passed quickly. With a year that was dominated by the twenty first century’s first global pandemic, to perhaps the Spanish flu about a century ago. Sri Lanka dealt with the first wave earlier this year, relatively successfully with few infections and single digit Covid-19 related deaths. The newly installed SLPP / Rajapaksa Administration claimed credit for an efficient epidemic management and possibly reaped some political benefit from the same, winning an unexpected and massive two-thirds majority in the general elections to parliament in August this year. Surpassing the seat tally received by a prior Rajapaksa Administration, under the UPFA banner, in the post war euphoria, elections of 2010. Quite a credit then to the current Rajapaksa administration, for surpassing itself.

However, the political year 2019/20, was not without its significant events, which will shape Sri Lankan national life for the next few years. First, it is the absolute implosion of the United National Party and the emergence of young Sajith Premadasa as both the credible runner-up in the presidential race and the new Leader of the Opposition. Replacing long serving UNP leader and former Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose refusal to concede defeat in his internal political battle with his erstwhile deputy, has resulted in the weakest political opposition in a decade, seriously weakening the checks and balances so essential in a democratic society. But a political transition has taken place, in both government and Opposition from Mahinda to Gotabaya and Ranil to Sajith.

Militarization of civilian space and centralization of political power

Probably, the most defining aspect of the current Rajapaksa administration is the militarisation of civilian space in public administration and governance. While Prime Minister and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa ascended to the apex of national governance through the democratic political process, the path which brought younger sibling and current President Gotabaya Rajapakas to power, lay through a career in the military, culminating in the highest office in the Ministry of Defence. Accordingly, governance under the current Rajapaksa administration has been dominated by the military, either serving or retired. The Covid-19 public health emergency has been placed under the serving Army Commander, rather than the Health Minister or the Health Ministry. Accordingly, there has been criticism of a reduction in health expenditure, lack of any increase in hospital bed capacity and Sri Lanka’s relatively low rate of Covid-19 testing.

Most of the high official positions in the administration including foreign affairs, health, ports and customs among others are occupied by retired or serving senior military men, competent undoubtedly, but not from the civilian Sri Lanka Administrative Service. Other key government functions seem to be allocated to presidential tasks forces, headed and dominated by military and security personnel, rather than relevant line ministries. Accordingly, such objectives as the Eastern Province archeological site preservation and the creation of a disciplined and virtuous society have been entrusted to military task forces.

The centralisation of political power in the executive presidency through the recently enacted 20th Amendment to the Constitution, mostly rolls back the modest democratic gains associated with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, and once again establishes Sri Lanka’s executive president as an elected absolute ruler. The administration required the help and support of some breakaway Opposition Muslim MPs to manage and mitigate its own internal dissent on the 20th Amendment.

A Covid-19 influenced economic meltdown

A significant factor in the single term demise of the Sirisena / Wickremesinghe Administration and the return to power of the Rajapaksas was likely the dismal governance performance, the anaemic economic growth and the absence of a peace dividend during the 2015 to 2019 period. Recognising this and that generally good economics is always good politics; the Rajapaksa administration has been keen to try and up its economic management game. This attempt has been seriously stymied by the Covid-19 pandemic and the effect of the lockdowns and the airport shutdown on the tourism and general services sectors. We are headed for a recession in excess of perhaps negative five percent (-5%), though we would have to await the Central Bank reports for the exact figure. The administration doesn’t really seem to have an answer to the serious economic challenges ahead, with their first budget earlier this month, seemingly more wishful than realistic or pragmatic.

 

 

A serious foreign policy tilt to China

Also, in the area of foreign policy, Sri Lanka’s decades long and carefully crafted non-aligned and neutral foreign policy, which followed a balance between the competing interests of major powers in the region, including of India, seems to have been jettisoned in favour of a serious pivot towards China, notwithstanding government lip service to the contrary. This is unwise and weakens key relationships with our largest trading partner the United States and, of course, our historical and huge sub continental neighbour India, to the detriment of our own national interests.

The first year of the new Rajapaksa administration would draw mixed reviews, dominated as it has been by the Covid-19 pandemic and its management, but pursuing and implementing policies, which avoid serious scrutiny and debate, precisely because of the pandemic. But those policies and their effects will be keenly felt and should be more closely examined later on in the administration’s term of office.

(The writer served as Advisor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2016-2017)

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How rot set in

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Rubber:

By Dhamsiri Dasanayaka,

Ex-Advisory Officer, Rubber Research Board

Rubber could be considered bread and butter of bona fide smallholders. They have cultivated their lands with rubber plants and manufacture Ribbed Smoked Sheets (RSS) out of their harvest by using traditional knowledge. The government in order to help them initiated an extension service for cultivating rubber. This article attempts to show how this extension mechanism came about.

In 1972, the Rubber Research Institute (RRI) established two extension departments, namely Smallholdings Department (SHD) for rubber smallholders and Estate Advisory Department (EAD) for large estates. In 1974, both were amalgamated into a separate scientific extension department called Advisory Services Department (ASD). From 1953, under the Rubber Control Act, non-scientific Rubber Control Department (RCD) provided subsidies to rubber farmers. The RCD issued permits to relevant land owners for replanting and new planting. Copies of these permits were referred to the ASD of the RRI for initiating the extension activities. Rubber Instructors of the ASD carried out this extension service successfully. They guided the small holders in multiple ways, such as planting, processing, marketting, bark exploitation, and other agricultural activities. This was the rubber extension system that took place during the decade of 1970.

In 1984, Smallholder Rubber Rehabilitation Project 01 (SRRP1) was implemented with World Bank assistance. The Advisory Services Department (ASD), with its flexible financial management system, the well-set theoretical, and practical links with the RRI, functioned effectively to improve the smallholdings sector. Both RRI and ASD were under the Rubber Research Board (RRB) highlighting the “Research- Extension- Farmer” academically recognized agricultural development model, and the SRRP planners decided to entrust this project to the ASD, which consequently became a well-organised active Extension Department like the RRI structure under the (RRB). Chairman of the RRB was a rubber industry professional. RRI and ASD were headed by two PhD qualified Directors. The think tank of the ASD was a scientifically qualified active group competent enough to implement the SRRP project successfully. During this project period, the role of the RCD was to issue permits to rubber farmers.

The Rubber Control Department (RCD), which essentially consisted of administrators, appointed a field staff of rubber Inspectors to handle the extension programme on field. They were too involved in subsidy administration in the field thus duplicating field work of rubber which caused confusion among rubber smallholders according to administrators. To eliminate this farmer confusion from the field, the ASD, which constituted experienced scientific think tank was removed from the RRB in 1994 and attached to RCD think tank, which was mainly an administration body and formed Rubber Development Department (RDD), which was also an administration body. This non-scientific administration think tank (RDD) was not conducive to effective agricultural extension.

By 2002, there were too many irregular segments causing duplication and, hence, excess staff in the RDD were transferred to RRI without having a clear mandate. As a result, 35 extension officers of the RDD who came back to the RRI were entrusted to handle extension programme under the RRI Director. This again led to creation of a dual extension officer situation in the field as in 1994.

At present there are six more institutions formed by the MPI and the relevant authorities to supply services to rubber sector as mentioned below.

As a result, there are four officers from the institutions 1, 2, 3 and 5 in the field handling extension and related functions. Now, the rubber farmers are again in a dilemma, unable to figure out which officer should be contacted to get advice on multiple services such as cultivation and processing, etc. Hence, it is questionable why the MPI and relevant authorities have ignored this multiple officer situation. This is in spite of a number of institutions dealing with rubber cultivation and wasting rubber growers cess fund meaninglessly.

 

Source: Rubber Development Department

Table 1 and articles authored by Mr. J. A. A. S. Ranasingha, Dr. L. M. K Tilakaratna and Professor. C. S. Weeraratna, in The Isalnd during the last few weeks indicate that the rubber production in the country has decreased substantially. Table 2 shows the production and imports of RSS in the year 2017. This implies that RSS manufacture should be increased which has a direct link with the smallholder production of RSS. RSS is an input to rubber industry. To improve the productivity of the rubber sector, which is on its way to extinction, there is a pressing need for an effective scientific rubber extension organisation to cater to the needs of rubber farmers. This will enable agronomically qualified think tank to assist rubber farmers to carry out agronomical activities such as outdoor farmer training , indoor training at Nivthigala Kelle, adaptive research activities, planting practices, soil conservation measures, establishing cover crops, fertilizer application, exploitation methodologies, manufacture of better quality rubber sheets, nursery management, smoke houses management, fixing rain guards and marketing, etc., more effectively like in 1994 and before.

One crucial factor which can be attributed to this calamitous situation in the rubber sector was the extremely unsatisfactory situation in the scientific extension, created by the amalgamation of the ASD and the RCD in 1994, removing the extension-oriented ASD think tank from RRB and forming the RDD administration think tank for the sake of development of the rubber sector. This action led to a breakdown of the well-established “Research – Extension – Farmer” inter faced academic development model. This model is a must in agricultural development and it must never be converted to a “Research – Administration – Farmer” model even though the extension label is affixed to the administrators. As a whole it was counter-productive as evident from the decreased production of rubber and increased imports of RSS due to the extension mechanism.

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Quadriplegic doctor aspires to walk again

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Dr. Dinesh Palipana Queensland’s Australian of the Year 2021

By Sajitha Prematunge

Dr. Dinesh Palipana does not have the full command of his fingers and his usual offer of a handshake took the form of an awkwardly extended fist. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, like a good sport, fist bumped the quadriplegic doctor, gangster-like, an act of empathy Palipana appreciates to this day. Such are the trials and tribulations Sri Lankan-born Australian doctor, lawyer and disability advocate, Dinesh Palipana is faced with, on a daily basis. But such technicalities didn’t prevent him from recently being named Queensland’s Australian of the Year 2021.

The quadriplegic doctor, the first of its kind in Queensland, and the second in Australia, is currently a lecturer at the School of Medicine, Griffith University; Adjunct Research Fellow at Menzies Health Institute Queensland and Senior House Officer (Emergency Department) at Gold Coast University Hospital. “Eleven years ago I was lying on an intensive care bed, I couldn’t move my arms and legs, I couldn’t eat or breathe. My life was falling apart all around me. But to be here after all that trauma seams surreal. But I am grateful for life, for my community, friends and family that supported me,” said Dr. Palipana.

He is a founding member of Doctors with Disabilities Australia, an advocacy group for physicians with disabilities and the ambassador for Physical Disability Australia. Palipana is a member of the scientific advisory committee of Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation. In 2019 Palipana was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his service to medicine; Junior Doctor of the Year at the Gold Coast University Hospital; Henry Viscardi Achievement Award, a global award in recognition for his work in disability advocacy; and ‘Change Making’ in National Awards for Disability Leadership. All these accolades and achievements would have been impossible without the love and support of his mother, Chithrani Palipana. “My mother taught me what love, strength, commitment and perseverance are.”

 

Tragedy

Born in 1984, Palipana and his family migrated to Australia in 1994, when he was 10. Not only physical disability, Palipana knows only too well how debilitating mental health disorders are as well. He battled with depression, anxiety and panic disorder while studying law. “It took some time. I had to readjust my life and thinking. Finding my purpose really helped.” He realized that law was not his calling. He commenced his Doctor of Medicine at the Griffith University in 2008. When he was 25 and half way through his medical degree, he lost control of his car while driving home on a wet night. The car aquaplaned and rolled. When it finally stopped, he realized that he could not move or feel his legs. Palipana was far enough in his medical education to self diagnose it as a spinal cord injury. It left him quadriplegic.

He lost all sensory and motor function below his chest due to the injury. “I can’t move my fingers,” said Palipana. He has had to make a lot of adjustments to life. “Initially, going from a normal life to being paralysed, was very challenging.” Palipana pointed out that even day-to-day activities can be difficult with impaired movement. Despite a life-changing disability, Palipana decided to go back to medical school. Against all odds he graduated in 2016, with quite a few awards, as the first quadriplegic medical graduate in the state of Queensland, the second in Australia. He also completed a medical clerkship at Harvard Medical School.

Prof Harry McConnell of Griffith University was instrumental in getting Dinesh back on his feet, no pun intended. “He is a passionate believer in inclusivity and has always fought for the rights of those with different abilities. He did a lot of work to facilitate me coming back to medical school. He also helped me a lot with getting my life back together.” Palipana was inspired by Dr Harry Eeman, Australia’s first doctor with tetraplegia, who sustained a severe form of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare neurological disorder that left him paralysed, halfway through medical school. “Dr. Eeman spent time with me to figure out solutions to some of the physical challenges. His experience really laid the foundation for my journey.”

 

Medical school

Palipana adapted new methods to train as a quadriplegic doctor, in partnership with Griffith University and the Gold Coast University Hospital. Quadriplegia can turn everyday activities into obstacles, but he learned his way around them. “Before coming back to medical school I spent a lot of time finding solutions to challenges. I had a great team helping me.” And with persistence, he learned how to hold a stethoscope making use of the natural grip of his fingers. He learned how to examine patients. “I even learned how to insert a cannula with some assistance.”

When asked how inclusive Australian professional culture is, in terms of employment opportunities for the differently-abled, as opposed to a country like Sri Lanka, Palipana admitted that it initially proved difficult to secure an internship in medicine in Australia. Despite two years in clinical training as a medical student at the Gold Coast University Hospital, Palipana had trouble securing an internship. In 2016, he was the only Queensland medical graduate without an employment offer. “I worked really hard in medical school and got good grades. It was very frustrating that non of those things mattered.”

Palipana admitted that medicine is not the most inclusive profession, but said it has improved much in the past five years. Although he explored the possibility of pursuing a medical degree in a Sri Lankan University, Palipana said that most university administrations were reluctant to accommodate him, “Except for Kelaniya University. Other universities have a long way to go in terms of inclusivity.” As a quadriplegic doctor working in Australian, Palipana said that shortcomings of accessibility are not restricted to Sri Lanka. “Accessibility needs a lot of work globally.”

His perseverance paid off. He was eventually employed by the Gold Coast University Hospital as Queensland’s first quadriplegic intern. His disability makes him no less capable as a doctor compared to an able-bodies person. Gold Coast Health, Emergency Medicine Director, Associate Professor David Green, speaking to the Today Show Australia, vouched for Palipana’s ability to pull his weight, albeit on a wheelchair. “In a big, busy emergency with a lot of staff, his value is enormous…After a while you just forget about his disability,” said Green on the Today Show. Dinesh said that the team spirit gets him through. “Besides, there are plenty of patients, I can examine, who do not require me to perform any procedure.”

When asked whether his disability has made him more empathetic towards his patients and whether the accident and subsequent hospitalization made him more able to relate to his patients, Palipana said he remembers what it felt like to be a patient. “It can be disempowering and terrifying. Anchoring myself in my own experiences helps me to remember what it’s like being a patient.” On the other hand Dinesh said that he has never had a patient react negatively to him. “Every single patient has been amazing. I am privileged to be a part of their journey towards recovery.”

Cutting-edge rehabilitation techniques for spinal cord injuries has a major research appeal for Palipana, who is determined to walk again. As Griffith University’s Biospine Project co-lead, Palipana explained that thought-controlled rehabilitation involves translating thought patterns into movement. “For example, if someone’s thinking of walking, we can translate that thought to movement by electrically stimulating the leg.” Promising results suggest that it can re-programme the spinal cord to restore some function in people with paralysis. “Therapies such as thought-controlled rehabilitation, drug therapy and digital twins have separately shown to restore some function in people with chronic paralysis. It is our hope that people like me will be able to stand on their own power again.” His ultimate goal is to come up with a therapy for spinal cord injury.

 

Advocacy

After recuperating at hospital for eight months, Palipana came back to Sri Lanka, where he spent another year, recovering in the company of family and friends. While in Sri Lanka he raised awareness and funds for spinal cord injury victims. In fact, his disability was a catalyst to his advocacy for training medical students with disabilities in Australia. “I’m lucky to be in a position to advocate for people with different abilities,” said Palipana.

Palipana obtained his law degree from the Queensland University of Technology in 2007 and was admitted as a lawyer in 2020. His background in law gave new impetus for his advocacy work on inclusivity in medical profession and education in Australia. “Law is a great tool that can be used to do a lot of good. It allows us to navigate legal and social structures.” His advocacy work with the Australian Medical Association has paved the way for national policies on inclusivity in medical education and employment. He used his story to demonstrate how the community can work with disability, to overturn a set of guidelines issued by the Medical Deans of Australia and New Zealand in 2015, vesting Australian medical schools with the power to exclude students with a range of disabilities. “Another major obstacle faced by students with disabilities was the attitudes of education establishments such as universities and academics.” Palipana said that Griffith University was an exception.

Palipana is also vocal about disability rights in the times of COVID-19. “The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted some of the inequities that differently-abled people face. Everything from healthcare access to employment has been an issue,” said Palipana. When health resources are scarce, some would argue that they are better utilized on those with a higher chance of survival. When governments of the developed world are forced to consider how to ration ventilators between people with disabilities and those without, how has COVID-19 affected those with disabilities?

If one with lungs as compromised as those of Palipana’s, were to contract COVID-19, the prognosis would indeed be bleak. Palipana explained that people with disabilities, depending on the disability, can be at high risk of increased complications due to COVID-19. “Many disabilities affect lung function. My lungs for example, don’t function as well, because of the spinal cord injury. It’s 30 percent of what it should be. If I were to get COVID-19 or even the flu, the chances of an adverse outcome is relatively high. Similarly, people with multiple sclerosis and stroke victims are susceptible,” pointed out Palipana. That should not justify sidelining people with disabilities. Palipana maintained that it is all the more reason to safeguard such vulnerable groups. “Through different forums and organisations, I am fortunate to be able to make a contribution in this important area.”

His message to people with debilitating disabilities and illnesses, who may be contemplating giving up on life is, “As a good friend once said, life is about ups and downs. Whenever there is an up, just know that there will be a down. Things can get challenging, but anyone can overcome them and live their dream, if they have the will. If I can become a doctor and lawyer others can too. Just find your passion and chase it.”

Going from being unable to breathe without the aid of a respirator, to advocating for disabled people and developing medical aid, real life success stories such as that of Robin Cavendish, never cease to inspire. Dinesh Palipana who proved his mettle by doggedly pursuing a career in medicine, while advocating for disability rights is, without a doubt, of that same calibre and hopefully will inspire multitudes more to achieve similarly extraordinary aspirations.

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