Humankind is in the middle of the deadly COVID pandemic, the worst ever seen in our lifetime. The virus, with all its ongoing mutations, is causing havoc all over the world, leading to untold misery and death. In the absence of any effective curative medication, and inadequate vaccine cover, prevention, with strict public health measures, based on sound scientific evidence, remains the fundamental way out of this impending catastrophe.
Larger countries, where politicians ignored professional advice, based on science, and took politically popular decisions, saw the inexorable spread of the disease causing much preventable deaths. Brazil, the USA (during the Trump presidency), and India, at present, are classic examples of this unfortunate situation. Countries like New Zealand, Australia, Israel and South Korea, taking decisions based purely on scientific advice, despite causing temporary hardship and restrictions on the people, have managed to return to near normal pre-COVID status.
Sri Lanka has a literate population.It also has a well-established public health service responsible for prevention and even eradication of many diseases, which are still ravaging many South Asian countries. The country is held out as an example of a success story in this regard by even the World Health Organization (WHO). As such, we should have succeeded in controlling the epidemic by now.
What went wrong in Sri Lanka, still causing the epidemic to escalate on a daily basis with ever increasing morbidity and mortality? The associations of doctors, other healthcare professionals, and even the laboratory technologists have been giving well considered advice and issuing guidelines to curtail the epidemic. But mostly, such advice appears to have been ignored by the political authorities, taking their own decisions instead. The COVID Control Task Force, being headed by the Army Commander, and the Vaccine Task Force, being under an elderly non-medical administrator, are classic examples of this ignorance. It is obvious that both these positions, as well as a majority of the membership of the task forces, should be held by medical professionals. The initial apparent success was hailed by politicians taking full credit, leading to them doing well at the elections. Most such decisions were directed at increasing the popularity of those in power or financial gain for people close to them. This has led to much bungling in decision-making, summarily listed below.
1. Health regulations were not strictly enforced . There was an escalation of the number of cases soon afterwards.
Health regulations were not strictly enforced during the general election last year.
2. The controversy on disposal of dead bodies; the scientifically correct decision to allow burial was taken by the politicians only after much heartburn of the community and even humiliation in the international scene.
3. Allowing and openly promoting unproven native medication, making the people ignore public health guidelines.
4. Conducting the Lanka Premier League (LPL) cricket tournament in Hambantota, bringing in players from countries with a roaring epidemic. One of the players found to be PCR positive then is alleged, though without proof, to have brought in the UK variant of the virus.
5. Entertaining tourists from Ukraine, where authorities had no control over the fast spreading disease. It is an open question whether the quarantine procedures were properly implemented. Same mistake is being made now, with Indians being allowed to come in for so called quarantining purposes. It is well known that the financial interests of acolytes took precedence over the health of the people.
6. Messing up the vaccination process. Notwithstanding the somewhat unforeseen situation in India, timely action should have been taken to obtain adequate supplies of approved vaccines. The authorities appeared to depend on the donation of an unapproved vaccine from a friendly country. The priority list for vaccination was disrupted, thus exhausting the supplies of the vaccine. As a result, only an insignificant proportion of the people have received the first dose, with no guarantee of the second.
7. Allowing free movement of people during the festivals, largely ignoring recommended preventive guidelines. These were openly patronised by the kith and kin of the political leaders.
8. In many meetings and other gatherings organised and attended by the politicians at the highest level, scant regard is given for public health precautions.
9. Claiming success until a few weeks ago, and reducing the PCR testing and other measures until caught unawares with a rapidly rising case load.
10. Restriction of movement and isolation of areas is hampered by political interference. This was well illustrated by what happened recently in Piliyandala, where the isolation of the area, on medical advice, was reversed within a few hours at the behest of a political bigwig.
11. All social gatherings were banned a few days ago. However, it was comical how largely attended weddings were allowed for a few days more, obviously to accommodate someone close to the centers of power. Though rumours abound, the beneficiary of this anomaly is still not known for certain.
To what extent the hierarchy in the medical administrators of the Health Ministry contributed to this dismal situation is open to question. The general impression is that they are succumbing to political pressure, without standing their ground. It is widely suspected that even the correct statistics are not divulged to avoid embarrassing the politicians. However, knowing how overpowering the politicians could be, it may be unreasonable to blame the hapless officials doing a thankless job under trying circumstances.
SENIOR MEDICAL CONSULTANT
The country they saved
Many YouTube videos are accessible on the Internet, which show interviews with retired/injured soldiers who were with the Sri Lanka Army during the period 2005-2009. They proudly talk about how they fought, how they got injured, how they re-joined the battle, after recovery, and how they saw their friends and higher officers get killed. Without any sadness in their voices, they show their wounded limbs and blinded eyes. Most of us who were not in the battlefield, too, can be somewhat satisfied by thinking about our much lesser contributions – donation of blood, donation of money towards various funds such as “Api Wenuwen Api” (although not sure what happened to those), helping families of soldiers, etc.
Many would now feel sad about those injured soldiers and the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice to safeguard this country, when seeing how this country is managed by some politicians, who claim that they were the people who saved this country.
Special rules for UK-SL MPs cricket
The High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to the UK, Saroja Sirisena, responding to a call by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, met the Speaker on May 24 at his office at the House of Commons, while the Lion Flag fluttered in front of the House of Commons on the occasion. Our lady diplomat, as per The Island report on 31st May, proposed and, ‘…both agreed that a friendly exchange of cricket between the members of the two Parliaments would be a fine opportunity to celebrate there shared love of cricket.’
Being concerned of the risk of conversion of the gentlemen’s game into a “Parliamentarian’s one”, shall we propose an amended 13-point set of rules applicable only to our legislators.
1. “Scrap retired hurt” phenomenon altogether as they will never dream of ‘retiring’, worse they do not understand what ‘hurt’ means.
2. Out!, and back in the pavilion, can be re-called by the Captain under “National team player” to the middle, to continue batting.
3. Ministers, who rush Bills for speedy enactments are best suited as Pace bowlers, but they will have to compete with ‘swing both-ways’ experts.
4. Talented ‘googley’ bowlers are in abundance, but English MPs are good readers of the googley; more prudent choice would be a specialist ‘Chinamen’, [there is no dearth of them either], further, the opponents do have little experience in facing them and would naturally be extra nervous to hear the first syllable of the word.
5. Sixers should be banned altogether, for they being highly skilled masters of the art will effortlessly hit every ball for a ‘SIX’.
6. Sledging, supported by familiar un-parliamentary vocabulary can be used excessively, as the opponents will not understand them, however, as a precautionary measure, the stump microphone should be disconnected from commentary.
7. Media should be allowed in the field to get voice cuts blaming the opponents, after every bungling by themselves.
8. English team has done their ‘home-work’ using freely available data : will demand free access for Agents of Bookies at the Lanka dressing room, with the idea of winning the game easily. However, such motivation can be countered by displaying 11 ultra-luxury SUVs on the grounds [as prizes for the winners]
9. A special sitting of the House prior to the match, to propose and pass a handsome match-fee for the players, would be an added incentive.
10. To compensate for their lack of experience and knowledge in playing on a level field, a ‘20%’ [a familiar numerical] bonus of runs or wickets can be granted.
11. In fairness to the Englishmen, any attempt to play a Dil-scoop using more familiar hands, minus the bat, should not be allowed.
12. The two field umpires plus 3rd, 4th umpires and match referee should be provided with special security in the event of a loss to the local team.
13. The moment the English side appealed against a Lankan batsmen, before the Umpire delivered his verdict, the bodyguards should rush to the field to prevent untoward incidents happening.
‘Lockdown’ and spraying against mosquitoes
In the current efforts against the spread of the Covid-19 virus, the public has quite rightly been requested to stay at home as much as possible. In this regard, it would help if responsible citizens, who wish to collaborate with the health authorities, are not caused problems by other citizens and officials.
While I was sitting in my kitchen last afternoon reading a book, I was amazed to see clouds of white ‘smoke’ billowing over the boundary wall separating our premises from the adjoining garden, which is known as a source of mosquitos. The ‘smoke’ was part of a pesticide spraying effort to combat the mosquito nuisance. It entered our kitchen and other areas and made them uninhabitable for a time, for fear of the possible damage to our health. Those responsible should be considerate to others in view of the difficult times we live in.
This experience brought to mind the publicised decision of the government to do away with the import of fertilizers and pesticides. These are matters of dispute, but as regards the control of mosquitoes without experiencing the health problems and financial burden associated with the usage of insecticides, one can refer to what has been termed the ‘sterile male technique’. This is based on the concept of producing large numbers of sterile males of the species of mosquito one desires to control, and releasing them into the surroundings. The sterile males will mate with ‘fertile’ female mosquitos but offspring will not result. Have our public health authorities and research establishments looked into the questions of the availability and the applicability of this technology for introduction in Sri Lanka?
Research on this approach to pesticide-free mosquito control was in progress some years ago, but this writer is not aware if applicable technology has been developed and put into use. (A Scottish colleague resident in Pennsylvania wrote to him some time back of spraying being conducted from helicopters to control the spread of West Nile Virus, which is mostly transmitted by species of Culex mosquitoes.)
In this regard, mention may also be made of the important conference ‘2nd Global Health Industry Cooperation Conference (GHICC2021) and China-CEEC Summit for Healthcare Industry Cooperation’ held in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, China on the 9th June 2021, in the course of which discussions took place on possible collaborations on projects between Chinese organizations and individuals, and organizations around the world. This conference, to which the writer was an invited participant, offered great hope for developing successful joint collaborations between organizations and scientists around the world. Collaboration on pesticide-free control of mosquito-borne disease would be an ideal area for such joint collaborations. The results of such joint collaborations would be applicable for the control of both disease-vector and ‘nuisance’ mosquitoes around the world.
Dr. ROHANA H WICKRAMASINGHE
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