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SENAKA BIBILE OUTWITTED THE DRUG MAFIA AND GOT MEDICINES CHEAP FOR THIRD WORLD

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by PROF. TISSA VITARANA

Prof.Senaka Bibile, a great Sri Lankan professor of Pharmacology, died 44 years ago on September 29, 1977, and this brief article is written in his memory. In my view he is one of Sri Lanka’s greatest products and a top achiever and all Lankans, especially the young, should know what he did and endeavor to emulate him to serve humanity and society regardless of personal gain or profit

With limited means, coming from rural Bibile in the Badulla district, he won a scholarship to Trinity College, Kandy (which he repaid once he became a doctor so that another poor student would also benefit, starting a new tradition). He excelled in his studies, despite taking to sports and music. He passed out of the Medical College, Colombo with a firstt class and several distinctions (surgery etc.).

Instead of becoming a rich surgeon, he chose to join the Pharmacology Department of the University to teach about the proper use of medicines and try to prevent poor patients dying due to the high price of drugs – a major health hazard at that time. He then obtained a Ph.D in Pharmacology in the UK. Back in Sri Lanka he became Professor in the Colombo Medical College for a long period before becoming the founder Professor of Pharmacology in the Medical Faculty of the University of Peradeniya and its Dean as well.

Among his many innovations was the setting up of an Institute for Research into Medical Education. He did much original research in pharmacology itself. Senaka gave all his lectures without a note and they were so clear and precise that it remained forever in the minds of his students.

He joined the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) while a student, where he became a convinced socialist interested in serving the people. Through Marxism he learned what caused the poverty around him and the LSSP’s path to eliminate it in Sri Lanka. I met him at party meetings, doing election work etc. and we became good friends.

When the language issue was at its height our Colombo Municipal Council member from Kuppiawatte died, and despite the racist attacks on the LSSP for supporting the use of Tamil also as an official language, the party had to put forward a candidate. When others were hesitant, Senaka volunteered to run. I and other student supporters had to face much violence, but Senaka’s leadership inspired us to fight to the end although we lost badly. A batch of us students met at his house every week and had interesting discussions on Marxism and politics in general.

Senaka began his campaign to bring down the cost of medicines by preparing a List of Essential Medicinal Drugs. Going by their generic (scientific) names he had about 250 on his list. He found that each of those on the list was being imported under different brand names, sometimes 10 or more. Each company would try to capture a larger share of the market by intensive advertising which raised the price further.

I am sorry to have to mention that some of my medical colleagues were being offered various perks (trips abroad etc.) and some succumbed and prescribed that brand. Poor patients, as the Government Hospitals were always short of drugs (connivance?), had to go to private pharmacies. Many who could not afford the full course only bought two or three days’ supply. The outcome was not only no cure, but also the problem of drug resistance emerging among the bacteria ( e.g. antibiotics). New antibiotics had to be found to save lives. These drugs were often more costly. The poor suffered more.

Senaka then established a State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC). Dr N.M.Perera and T.B. Subasinghe supported Senaka’s idea of the SPC calling for worldwide tenders based on the scientific (generic) names, not only for the needs of the Government hospitals but also for the private ones. The outcome was a large number of bids with intensive competition among the powerful Multinational Corporations ( MNCs) and producers of generic products which supply the MNCs. This ensured much cheaper prices and good quality. The SPC was able to obtain effective medicines at very low prices.

To give one example. The Roche MNC of Switzerland which sold “Diazepam” ( generic name) under the name Valium brought down the cost of a tablet from about 92 cents to 52 cents, a drop of 40 cents. But Ranbaxy of India offered a tablet at two cents (Sri Lankan). Senaka contacted international organizations that check on all product preparation procedures and give Certificates of Good Manufacturing Practices ( GMPs) for a price. The report on the Ranbaxy product was good.

The SPC accepted the Ranbaxy product and saved 50 cents on the bid price and 90 cents on the Roche retail price. The Government drug bill came down steeply, and state hospitals were able to prescribe medicines to every patient for practically all illness free of charge. The price in private pharmacies also came down markedly. Senaka was able to achieve his ambition. Indeed Sri Lanka began to have a free health service.

Senaka’s other ambition was for Sri Lanka to produce its own requirement of essential drugs and if possible export them to earn foreign exchange. What many countries do, including the rich countries like the USA, is to get powders from the generic producers in countries like India, tablet them under their trade names and sell at a much higher price. The formulation of the powder is a lengthy and expensive process, involving much research etc..

Senaka wanted Sri Lanka to do its own formulation. He mooted the idea of establishing a State Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Corporation (SPMC) for this purpose. He started on it and prepared the foundation, but did not live to see the final outcome. Much of that work was taken on by Dr.Gladys Jayewardene. When I inquired some time before 2015 over 40 of the most widely used medicines were being produced by the SPMC.

Though it is supposed to have gone up to well over this number during the time of the Yahapalanaya Government after 2015, I have been inform that a private company in Sri Lanka is supplying the tablets to the SPMC who then sells it as an SPMC product to SPC for the Government hospitals.

Many hands are involved and many commissions are said to be made. Whether the formulation is done in Sri Lanka is also uncertain. I am also told that this nasty practice is continuing under the present Government. This should be fully investigated and if what is being said is correct immediate action must be taken. I request the new Minister of Health to do so without delay.

Senaka was in high demand to visit third world countries to introduce his methods. The night before his final visit abroad to Guyana, while having dinner with me he said that anonymous callers were trying to stop him from going, saying he would risk his life by going there. There are suspicious circumstances surrounding his death. My wife, Kamini, and I went to meet Leila at the airport to receive the ashes of this great man who was lost to the world at the age of just 54- years. What a great loss to mankind!



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Features

Encouraging signs, indeed!

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Derek and Manilal

Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving

Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.

They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.

The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.

On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.

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Constructive dialogue beyond international community

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by Jehan Perera

Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.

In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”

Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”

INTERNAL FRAGMENTATION

The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.

There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.

President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.

EARLY WARNING

An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.

The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.

Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.

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JAYASRI twins…in action in Europe

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The world over, the music scene has been pretty quiet, and we all know why. This pandemic has created untold hardships for, practically, everyone, and, the disturbing news is that, this kind of scene has been predicted for a good part of 2022, as well,

 

The band JAYASRI, however, based in Europe, and fronted by the brothers Rohitha and Rohan, say they are fortunate to find work coming their way.

Over the past few months, they have been performing at some of the festivals, held in Europe, during the summer season.

Says Rohitha: “As usual, we did one of the biggest African festivals in Europe, AfrikaTage, and some other summer events, from July up to now. Some were not that big, as they used to be, due to the pandemic, health precautions, etc.”

For the month of October, JAYASRI did some concerts in Italy, with shows in the city of Verona, Napoli, Rome, Padova and Milano.

The twins with the
late Sunil Perera

On November, 12th, the JAYASRI twins, Rohitha and Rohan, will be at EXPO Dubai 2020 and will be performing live in Dubai.

Rohitha also indicated that they have released their new single ‘SARANGANA,’ describing it as a Roots Reggae song, in audio form, to all download platforms, and as a music video to their YouTube channel – www.youtube.com/user/jayasri

According to Rohitha, this song will be featured in an action drama.

The lyrics for ‘SARANGANA,’ were created by Thushani Bulumulle, music by JAYASRI, and video direction by Chamara Janaraj Pieris.

There will be two audio versions, says Rohitha – a Radio Mix and a DUB Mix by Parvez.

The JAYASRI twins Rohitha and Rohan

After their Italian tour, Rohitha and Rohan are planning to come to Sri Lanka, to oblige their many fans, and they are hoping that the showbiz scene would keep on improving so that music lovers could experience a whole lot of entertainment, during the forthcoming festive season.

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