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Prof. Vitarana calls for a public approach based on intensive health education to get rid of Covid-19

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It will be cheaper and easier to implement

By Saman Indrajith

LSSP leader Prof. Tissa Vitarana, the country’s most senior virologist, participating in the third reading stage of the budget debate under the expenditure headings of the Ministry of Health, said that it was not necessary to wait for a successful vaccine to be made and used to control the Covid-19 virus. It would also be very expensive. A public health approach based on intensive health education, and the active participation of the community would be cheaper, easier to implement and more effective even to get rid of the virus altogether from the country.

“We must first understand that this is a new virus to the world. There are many other types of viruses in the world which can cause alarm and even lead to epidemics, but there is a social immunity that has arisen against them with time and they tend to be milder. But for Covid-19 there is no such immunity. There is insufficient understanding of its behavior. It is still being studied and new knowledge of the virus is being discovered every day.” Prof. Vitarana said.

“It is in such a context that our Government faced the challenge and I must praise the way in which the Government handled that challenge. In the first wave, our experts identified separate clusters that had their origins from foreign sources. Action had been taken to identify the threat and to mitigate the damage in a scientific manner, so that Sri Lanka came to be among one of the few top countries in the world which handled the virus threat without letting it evolve into a pandemic”, said the renowned Virologist who was the former Head of the Medical Research Institute’s Virology department, and also worked as a consultant virologist at the Edinburgh City Hospital.

“But the virus gradually evolved itself. A PCR test is being used to make the diagnosis. The PCR test to identify the infection has a 70% level of accuracy. But PCR tests done against other viruses have a level of accuracy of more than 90%. This means that further research needs to be done to improve the capabilities of the Covid-19 PCR tests. About 30% of positives are being missed. That is the reality with regard to PCR tests. Further about 80% of those infected by the virus show no illness but can infect other people. Therefore, these are not easy conditions to control the spread of infection”, he said.

The World Health Organization has expressed its willingness to give vaccines to 20% of our population free of charge. The WHO can access the institutional capacity to ensure the safety and potency of those vaccines. These vaccines should be used to save the lives of elders and those who have other chronic medical conditions, for example heart patients. However, the main purpose of giving vaccines to a population is to make a country immune to the disease. To effectively stop transmission of the virus, at least 80% of the population needs to be immunized. This is a new vaccine and it is not known how long the immunization would last. And research is still been done on how frequently the vaccine should be given to obtain optimum protection. Under these circumstances the development of a program to vaccinate the entire population is unreliable and would be very costly. So the duty of the Government is to increase public awareness of the importance of following the three main health rules – the wearing of masks when other people are present, maintaining a distance of at least one meter, but better two meters, between oneself and other people, and frequent hand washing using soap, specially after touching any surface which has been touched by other people, Prof. Vitarana, who completed his PhD in virology from the University of London in 1971, further said.

He noted that there is a severe shortage of medicines in the Government hospitals and the cost is very high in the open market.

“I would like to suggest to the Minister that the way out would be to implement the Senaka Bibile Medicinal drug policy. Tenders were called worldwide to meet the requirement not only of the public health care system but also the private sector. Thus, the tenders called supplied the total national requirement. The tenders were called by the State Pharmaceutical Corporation using generic names of the medicine so that they could be bought at the cheapest prices provided their quality was ensured by getting certificates of good manufacturing practice by the supplying pharmaceutical companies”, he said.

This enabled all the Government hospitals to provide all the required medicines for practically every illness free of charge. The medicines were made available to the private sector too at the lowest possible prices. That was the result of the implementation of the Senake Bibile policy”, Prof. Vitarana added.

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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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