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Peradeniya University awaits Health Ministry nod to launch local anti-serum

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By Ifham Nizam

Peradeniya University scientists are awaiting the Health Ministry’s go-ahead to launch the first locally manufactured anti-serum to treat snakes bites.

The University’s Head Professor, Faculty of Veterinary Pathobiology, R. P. V. J. Rajapakse, said that half a dose of the locally produced serum was sufficient to treat snake bite victims

“The preclinical tests have been completed and the level of efficacy was excellent,” he said.

He said an imported dose costs eight US dollars, whereas the local product can be made available at a more competitive price.

Russell’s viper (Daboia russelii), common Krait (Bungarus caeruleus), Hump-nosed viper (Hypnale hypnale), Cobra (Naja naja), Saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus) and Ceylon krait (Bungarus ceylonicus) are snakes considered “medically important” in Sri Lanka.

The most common bite is Hump-nosed viper and Ceylon krait, which are highly venomous and found only is Sri Lanka, he said.

“Usually, we import anti-serum from India. However, as they produce antivenin using Indian snakes, the toxicity and composition vary from Sri Lankan snake species venom as the Krait and Hump-nosed Viper species are not found there”, he explained.

“Therefore we decided to develop antivenin compatible with our ‘medically important’ snakes in collaboration with an Indian, WHO recommended laboratory”, he noted.

Prof. Rajapakse said that Sri Lanka can even export antivenin to other countries if a WHO recommended bio-safe plant was established under a substantial investment.

The local anti-serum was developed by the Peradeniya University under the guidance of Prof. S. A. M. Kularatne, Senior Professor of Medicine and Senior Scientist Anslem de Silva in collaboration with the Department of Wildlife Conservation, Ministry of Science and Technology.

The government spends around Rs. 1 billion to import anti-venom serum from India, but experts have pointed out that the potency of the venom, particularly when it comes to Russell’s Viper and Hump-nosed Viper in Sri Lanka are more toxic than in India.

Medical experts say that a victim with serious bites suffer acute kidney damage and many other complications when it comes to the hypnale species.

Professors S. A. M. Kularatne, Kolitha Sellahewa, Ariyarani Ariyaratnam, Kalana Maduwage and Dr. Namal Ratnayake from the Teaching Hospital, Ratnapura, have managed several hundred cases of hypnale.

A decade ago, snake bites were a major problem with some 60,000 people falling victim annually. Only around 40,000 of the victims received treatment from hospitals, while the others resorted to traditional native snake bite treatment.

In total, 97% of snake bite deaths are caused by the cobra, Russell’s Viper and Common India Krait. Apart from them, the Sri Lankan Krait and Saw Scaled Viper are categorized as a dangerous species though they have not caused many deaths. The Merrem’s Hump-nosed Viper is considered by the Sri Lanka Medical Association as a deadly species.

However, of the land snakes only a few are ‘medically important’ or can inflict a bite, where the venom could be mild, moderate or highly venomous. It is of interest to note that to date, modern medical literature record human fatalities only due to four species of snakes – Russell’s Viper, Cobra, Kraits and the Hump-nosed Viper.

The Hump-nosed Pit Viper (Hypnale Merrem’s pit viper) is a snake widely distributed in Sri Lanka and the South Western coastal region of India.

It is the most common snake responsible for venomous snakebites in Sri Lanka, estimated to be between 22% to 77% of all snakebites (de Silva, 1981; Seneviratne, 2000). For centuries, it was considered a relatively innocuous snake until 1821, when for the first time, swelling and bleeding due to bites by H. hypnale was reported in animals (Davy, 1821)



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SJB: Excise, FM officials all out to pocket Rs 1 bn

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By Saman Indrajith

Matara District SJB MP Buddhika Pathirana yesterday told Parliament that the Finance Ministry and Excise Department officials had misled Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal in order to obtain billion rupees, fraudulently.

The officials had got a contract for printing stickers or barcodes to be displayed on bottles of liquor awarded to an Indian company.

“The project would result in one-billion-rupee loss to the government coffers annually,” the MP said, adding that the money being taken from the public purse would end up in the pockets of corrupt officials.

Pathirana said that the Excise Department had commenced a project to paste stickers on bottles of liquor to differentiate them from the fake and counterfeit bottles in the market.

“As per this project’s requirements, 32 million stickers would be needed per month. The stickers are to be purchased from Madras Security Printers company of India. This method was proposed in 2016 but it failed and the officials thereafter decided to introduce a barcode system.

“The cost of a sticker at 25 cents and the new barcode system will cost of two rupees a piece. This is a dubious deal. It seems that the Finance Ministry officials and the Excise Department heads have ganged up to give the contract to the Indian company and get commissions. There are many unanswered questions. First, the contract of printing the barcode too has been given to the MSP company, which could not secure the first contract. I want to know whether the proper procurement process has been followed. The second question is whether the barcodes would be up to the standards listed in the tender. Third question is who had selected the MSP company which is black-listed in India after being found guilty of frauds with Indian liquor companies in providing stickers to them. MSP has been blacklisted in many other countries. The company has been banned in Sudan and Liberia for supplying the stickers to private companies. The last question is whether this fraud is being committed with the knowledge of ministers of this government.”

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Reserves fall to lowest since 2009, rupee strengthening to be short-lived: report

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by Sanath Nanayakkare

Sri Lanka’s Foreign reserves had dropped to USD 4.1bn in March 2021, the lowest since August 2009, on the back of over US$ 4bn outstanding debt payment during April-December 2021 period, a report issued by First Capital Research yesterday said.

According to the report, rupee appreciation is likely to be short-lived considering Sri Lanka’s depleting foreign reserve position, high foreign currency debt repayment requirement and limited funding sources available in the market are expected to further increase depreciation pressure on the currency during 2Q and 3Q.

“We maintain our exchange rate target for 1H2021 at Rs. 196-202 with 2021 year-end target at Rs. 205-215 as mentioned in our ‘Investment Strategy 2021 – January 2021,” the report recalls.

“Sri Lankan rupee appreciated 5% against the US dollar over the last 2 market days reversing the continuous accelerated depreciation witnessed in January-April 2021. On 12th April, Sri Lankan rupee recorded a historical low of Rs. 201:1 US$. Ministry of Finance (MoF) reported on the same day that the government of Sri Lanka entered into a loan agreement with the China Development Bank (CDB) for US$ 500mn and MoF expected the funds to be disbursed during the same week. Following the announcement, the market registered a steep appreciation with mid-rate recording at Rs. 190.9 on April 19,” it says.

The total foreign debt repayment (capital and interest) for 2021 is US$ 6 bn, according to the report.

Meanwhile FC Research believes that the temporary appreciation in USD-LKR, may adversely impact earnings of export companies such as Hayleys, Haycarb, Dipped Products, MGT Knitting Mills, Teejay Lanka, Expolanka Holdings etc. in the short term.

“However, considering the potential future currency pressure, we expect an overall depreciation of approximately 12% for the rupee providing a significant gain for companies with foreign currency revenue”, FC research predicts.

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Govt. asks Opposition not to propagate lies

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By Saman Indrajith

Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando yesterday accused the Opposition MPs of abusing parliamentary privileges to mislead the public by propagating lies about the Easter Sunday terror attacks. 

Addressing Parliament, Minister Fernando said: “The Opposition MPs level wild allegations in the House knowing that they have the cover of parliamentary privilege. If they have anything substantial or any knowledge of the perpetrators of the Easter attacks still not in custody they can go to the CID and lodge complaints so that such complaints could be investigated.”  

Fernando said so after SJB Galle District MP Manusha Nanayakkara had told the House that he possessed evidence of those who carried out the Easter Sunday terror attacks.

Nanayakkara also said that the facts that he had were not in the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday carnage.

“You are making various statements regarding the Easter Sunday terror attacks in the Chamber without any proof because you know that you have Parliamentary privilege. You even quoted some statements which are not included in the PCoI report. How did you obtain such information? Why didn’t you complain about this to the CID in the first place? Your action is aimed at misleading the public,” the Minister said. 

Minister Fernando said that the Opposition should stop insulting Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith by misinterpreting the latter’s statements. 

“When you are in the Government you never said that this is a Buddhist country. Now you are insulting the Cardinal too. You should not do that,” the Minister said. 

“The former Government should be responsible for the terror attack. Now we are trying to punish those who are responsible for it. We will take action against everyone who is responsible. You should support us, not try to obstruct the on-going investigations,” Minister Fernando said.

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