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Public health officials smother SARS-Cov-2 epidemic



By A. Bystander

Public health officials have done it again: they have smothered the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 before it took more lives and disabled even more economic activity. This is not the first time that they have got the better of deadly and disabling pathogens. Perhaps the closest parallel is their campaign against malaria, which rampaged over most of Sri Lanka during the 1930s and early the first part of the 1940s. Then there was no WHO or OXFAM. It was then, as now, an achievement of local public health officials: PHIs, nurses, lab technician, ambulance drivers and of course the physicians. Who would dare assess the contribution each group against that of another? It is true that the anti-malaria campaign gained a powerful weapon, when DDT spraying was introduced in the 1940s. Its use was strictly limited later because of its disastrous ill effects on the environment. Not enough has been written about this heroic story. There is some account in Dr. S.A.Meegama’s recent book as there was in Dr. N. K. Sarkar’s Ph.D. thesis. I have not read Dr.Uragoda’s writings; it is most likely that he dwelt on this subject as I recall him holding forth on it. Dr.W.G.Wickremasinghe, the first Ceylonese Director of Medical And Sanitary Services (DM&SS, as was then called) wrote a booklet, an autobiography of sorts, privately distributed (I have lost my copy.), in which he described the work he did with PHIs when he was MOH of the Kalutara district. They went from house to house destroying breeding places for mosquitoes and advising people about ways of avoiding the spread of malaria. It is this remarkable dedication of public health officials and the better distribution of food, irrespective of purchasing power in the hands of consumers coupled with a better distribution of rural hospitals, that helped Ceylon to stand out in the health conditions of its people as the war (1939-45) ended. The rising standards of living and literacy, especially of women, all contributed in their own time.

Infant mortality rates dropped sharply as the malaria epidemic abated. Maternal mortality rates fell similarly with the opening of rural hospitals. Consequently, the average expectation of life at birth shot up. Sustaining all these successes was better nutrition, assured by government schemes to distribute essential commodities evenly among all people under a ration scheme and subsided prices. Japan had invaded South East Asia and the Japanese warships were present on the high seas. We were a British colony and Britain had a deep commitment to Ceylon as Singapore fell to the Japanese. It was important that they had a peaceful country from which they could operate. The people had to be kept reasonably satisfied. But food supplies became scarce. They introduced a scheme of rationing essential food supplies and fuel supplies. The colonial government appointed highly competent civilian as the Competent Authority who oversaw all this work. To do so the government introduced a rationing scheme, which ensured the supply to irrespective of high purchasing power. Each adult was entitled to a kilogram of rice, 2 kilos in the event he did hard labour, some flour, some sugar and some kerosene oil. It is this assured supply that built healthier children in those years who grew up to go to school and university and reasonably long life. (I am one of them.). In England and Wales, the lowest infant mortality rates were registered 1911-1921 because of food rationing during those years of horrible war.

In a paper that Amartya Sen wrote in 1981 in the Bulletin of the Oxford Institute Economics and Statistics he identified five poor countries which stood out on a scatter map relating GDP per capita and infant mortality rates (or average expectation of life at birth). Cota Rica, Cuba, Korea, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, though poor sported rates of infant mortality matching those of OECD countries. The secret of success lay in the fairly even distribution of food and outstanding public health policies. Costa Rica had no army and the money wasted on starched uniforms, polished brass and jack boots went into primary education and public health. Cuba under Fidel Castro spent heavily on primary education and public health. Their public health officers still work in many parts of Africa. I have mentioned some of the policies in colonial Ceylon. The free education scheme launched by Kannanangara and teaching in indigenous languages introduced by Jayawardena and Nalliah supplemented that to make the younger population more literate. There was a pronounced emphasis on primary health care in contrast to curative care of more complex sicknesses. Graduates in medicine and surgery that came out of the new faculty of medicine carried with them not only sophisticated understanding sicknesses but also an admirable commitment to common people. Professional who come here from neighbouring countries to participate in conferences in education and health express wonderment that teachers in government schools regularly teach in schools and that doctors regularly come to work in rural hospitals. It is that commitment of well trained and skilled men (and now women) that helped to hold back the epidemic, thus preventing the curative branch from being overwhelmed by the simultaneous large inflows of sick people. Of the 2,900 or so infected, some 900 were sailors from the Navy who were young and in robust health and the risk of them falling acutely ill was very small. As we do not know the age structure of those others who fell ill, one cannot assess the probability of their proceeding to being acutely need requiring breathing help. I am sure that in time an epidemiologist will look at the figures analytically.

Of course, one must not forget that the bhikkhu sangha recited the ratana sutta interminably to keep off the epidemic as had been done in Vaishali in the time of the Buddha.


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Right to travel



A.G. Noorani

VERY few would dispute that travel broadens the mind. But in the developing nations of this world, the state asserts that it can determine whether its citizen has the right to go abroad or not. The supreme court may take its own time to decide whether or not a citizen — even if he or she lives in a country that claims itself to be a democracy — has the right to possess a passport. Even if that is allowed as an essential travel document, the authorities might decide who can use it or who cannot. The government of India, regardless of which party is in power, seems to have assumed the right to decide whether or not to let a chief minister travel abroad.

The victim is the chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, who was to speak at the World Cities Summit in Singapore. But the BJP-ruled government, headed by Narendra Modi, felt that he could not go and did not give him clearance. Its approach was nonsensical.

By now, most of the countries of the Third World have ratified the United Nations. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966). This is an international treaty in law while the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) is, in law, just a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly. Article 12(2) of the covenant provides that “Everyone shall be free to leave any county including his own” — in other words, there should be no restrictions on travelling abroad.

The covenant sets up a human rights committee of distinguished persons who are not representatives of the government but are individuals of note who have “high moral character” and are elected by the states, who have ratified the covenant.Parties to the covenant have to file reports to the committee on their observance of the stipulations contained within. States send mostly their attorney general to defend their reports. Members of the committee grill representative of the states. They do not publicise much of the report within their own countries or the contents of their reports. Both err on the side of exaggeration.

Unfortunately, civil liberties movements in the Third World are generally not articulate nor well-equipped. The exception that stands out is the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan based in Lahore whose prominent chairperson, the late Mr I.A. Rehman, never failed to stand up for civil rights.

In India, following Indira Gandhi’s defeat in the election in 1977, a liberal government came to power which ratified the UN covenant in March 1979. They ratified it only with certain conditions but these did not concern Article 21 of the constitution of India that says very clearly that “No person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law”.

The Indian supreme court has ruled that fundamental rights can be exercised outside the country. In 1978, the apex court had to deal with Maneka Gandhi’s case concerning the impounding of her passport. The supreme court held:

“…[F]reedom to go abroad is one of such rights, for the nature of man as a free agent necessarily involves free movement on his part. There can be no doubt that if the purpose and the sense of state is to protect personality and its development, as indeed it should be of any liberal democratic state, freedom to go abroad must be given its due place amongst the basic rights.

“This right is an important basic human right for it nourishes independent and self-determining creative character of the individual, not only by extending his freedoms of action, but also by extending the scope of his experience. It is a right which gives intellectual and creative workers in particular the opportunity of extending their spiritual and intellectual horizon through study at foreign universities, through contact with foreign colleagues and through participation in discussions and conferences.

“The right also extends to private life; marriage, family and friendship are humanities which can be rarely affected through refusal of freedom to go abroad and clearly show that this freedom is a genuine human right.

“Moreover, this freedom would be a highly valuable right where man finds himself obliged to flee: (a) because he is unable to serve his God as he wished at the previous place of residence, (b) because his personal freedom is threatened for reasons which do not constitute a crime in the usual meaning of the word and many were such cases during the emergency, or (c) because his life is threatened either for religious or political reasons or through the threat to the maintenance of minimum standard of living compatible with human dignity.” This ruling has stood the test of time.

(The Dawn/ANN)
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

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If visitors pay USD at airport, no fuel queues for them



The above statement was made by Manusha Nanayakkara our Labour & Foreign Employment Minister. How the Minister is going to do it is not known.I wish to make a few suggestions to the Minister for his consideration to implement his proposal. Tourists, migrant workers and the dual citizens were the people whom the Minister referred to in his proposal. Many expat Sri Lankans of whom some could be dual citizens visit home once a year to spend their holidays with their families. Since Covid this might have slowed down.

With the Covid jabs even though one could catch Covid people have started to travel. Travelling to Colombo again will slow down due to the pathetic situation that exist with a shortage of everything, particularly fuel, gas and medicines. The Minister’s statement is some encouragement, but he must place his plan for the consideration of the prospective travellers and shoe by action.

The Bank Of Ceylon Branch at the Airport can sell a Dollar debit card to expats, migrant workers and tourists or in other words those who arrive with a return ticket. The minimum value can be USD 500 with provision to put more dollars attending any BOC Branch. When selling the card, a separate certificate in a little booklet format can be given with the Passport details of the traveller entered. The registration details of the vehicle the traveller intends to use can be entered in the booklet by any BOC branch after the traveller finds the vehicle, that is hired or owned by a relation. If the traveller changes the vehicle the new vehicle details can be entered only after 3 days of the first registration. This will help to prevent misusing the debit card.

The traveller must be able to purchase fuel and other rare commodities on production of the certificate to pay by the debit card referred to in the certificate.

Expats and the tourists visit to travel, and fuel must be available at petrol stations, at least one station ear marked in every town with stock always available for this category. Purchase of fuel can be restricted to at least 15 litres per day that will be good to run about 150kms approximately.

I have suggested the above as a base for the Minster to work out a reasonable plan. Once it is made and implemented whether it works smoothly or with hiccups will be known to prospective travellers through the newspapers. If the system works well, the travellers will have confidence in visiting Sri Lanka and there will be many wanting to visit in the near future.

Hemal Perera

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‘CEB restructure must be apolitical says CEBEU’ – a reply



The above captioned news item appearing in your Sunday issue quotes CEBEU mentions that Cabinet approval has been granted to commence restructuring of Ceylon Electricity Board [C EB] and a committee has been appointed to submit its recommendations within a month; a very important and urgent action indeed seeing and learning the mismanagement and conflicting views and action taken to serve two masters viz, the Ministry for Power and Energy and the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka [PUCSL] and also political interferences as correctly stated by CEB engineers –”The engineers stressed that political non-interferences is of paramount importance”. The interference of the Minister to award a tender for the construction pf 350 Mw LNG plant at Kerawalapitiya to a Chinese construction Company as against the recommendation of the Tender Board, causing a delay of over four years, and the cabinet approval for a wind farm in the north by an Indian company without consulting CEB are a couple worthy of mentioning. It should be emphatically stated, CEB has knowledgeable expert electrical engineers and I believe there are none outside, other than those retired CEB engineers who have set up lucrative consultancy firms, internationally recognized. During my time serving this sector for nearly two decades, with directives by the Ministry, in electrical engineering, administrative and financial matters, the CEB ran to the satisfaction of consumers and also invested elsewhere which made the Treasury to compel CEB to invest on Treasury Bills. The interferences in the administration and matters were directly settled by CEB and also directives of the Ministry have now to obtain the approval of PUCSL.

I remember that the PUCSL called for tenders to remove electric poles, a minor job done by area engineers. There was an instance where the PUCSL sought legal action against CEB for not consulting the PUCSL on a certain matter. Recently, the PUCSL has reduced the tariff worked out by expert proposed by the CEB. What does this mean, the CEB will have to cut down or cancel certain items which it had, to accommodate PUCSL reduction. For efficient running of the CEB, the committee should recommend an end to PUCSL interference with CEB. Do not forget consumers of electricity, commuters etc., could directly place their grievances to the authorities or through organizations, associations concerned and Trade Union, to get redress. The interference I mentioned is not my not my view alone. This was a request made by former Ministry for Power and Energy, Dallas Alahapperuma to the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa; it was approved but overruled by the then Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Mahinda Rajapaksa. For reasons perhaps ut ab ordine – chaos from order.

It is hoped the Committee appointed will look into what is stated above and make recommendations accordingly.

G. A. D.S irimal
Former Assistant Secretary, SLAS, Ministry P&E.

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