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Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 response: saving lives today, preparing for tomorrow

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On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Sri Lanka was extremely vulnerable to the spread of the virus because of its thriving tourism industry and large expatriate population. The first case was detected on January 27, 2020 and the first Sri Lankan national tested positive for COVID-19 on March 10, 2020. In response, the government of Sri Lanka rapidly introduced measures to curb the spread of the disease and imposed a strict island-wide lock-down on March 16, 2020. Infected patients were treated in secure environments, testing and contact tracing efforts were quickly escalated, and awareness raising campaigns on risk and prevention measures were implemented. Already facing fiscal constraints, the pandemic placed additional resource demands on the country. The challenge was to quickly coordinate the mobilization of financial, technical and procurement support to contain the pandemic.

Approach

Within this context, the World Bank responded quickly, leveraging the dedicated COVID-19 Fast-Track Facility, to mobilize resources and prepare the project in just 10 working days. Recognizing the limited availability of the health authorities for separate detailed design discussions, strategies and project priorities were built on gaps and needs outlined in the Health Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery plan that was being developed by the Ministry of Health (MoH) and development partners including WHO, World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB), among others. This approach allowed for swift preparation, while ensuring coordinated financing support by multiple partners. Bank financing was used to fill resource gaps and to supplement and scale up Sri Lanka’s pandemic management strategy.

The project adopted a flexible approach to respond to urgent health needs, enabling reimbursement for routine goods and operating expenditures for facilities that were engaged in the COVID-19 response. This helped identified facilities to quickly upgrade their wards to make them COVID-ready. Flexibility to use ongoing government procurement methods (adopting the principles of advance procurement) were provided for the first three months following project signing.

Activities were also initiated to strengthen the National Emergency Operation Unit and its island wide network. For better preparedness, selected hospitals are now being developed as medical centers for current and future pandemic situations, and the existing laboratory system is being strengthened. The project is also helping to develop the country’s infection control and surveillance systems and supporting epidemiological studies on the patterns of transmission, and on community response and behavior. This research will underpin long-term plans and strategies on pandemic management.

The World Bank also provided additional financial resources in the form of cash transfers to high-risk populations including the elderly and disabled and patients with chronic diseases. This social sector response was in addition to the health sector response to manage vulnerabilities that emerged due to COVID-19.

The project will also strengthen mental health services and services for victims of gender-based violence (GBV) at the community level especially during emergency situations. These activities will be implemented with support of a grant from the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF).

Results

Within six months of project implementation, World Bank financing—both through the International Development Association (IDA) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD)—has contributed to the following results between March and October 2020:

As of October 1, 2020, there were a total of 3,380 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Sri Lanka, with 3,233 fully recovered and 13 deaths. The spread of COVID-19 has been limited to 18 out of 26 districts in the country, with 8 districts having no reported cases. Even among the 18 districts with COVID-19 cases, the caseload is concentrated in 6 districts, with the majority of cases in the district of Colombo, the capital city. In the remaining 12 districts there are fewer than 10 cases per district. This relatively low COVID-19 morbidity and mortality number reflects the government’s strong and rapid response and effective implementation of the ‘test, track, isolate and treat’ strategy supported through this project.

300,000 units of PPE have been procured and delivered, along with essential medical consumables (‘treat’); 32 quarantine centers are up and running across country (‘isolate’); and 250,000 PCR test kits have been procured through the project, facilitating testing randomly at outpatient departments, in community settings and at ports of entry (‘test’).

805 public health inspectors have been provided with motor bikes to travel to conduct contact tracing; and double cabs (pick-up trucks) have been provided to 25 offices of the Regional Director of Health Services (RDHS) to enhance grassroots community outreach (‘track’).

Plans for transforming select hospitals into 9 provincial case management centers and 25 district level suspected case management centers covering all parts of the country are underway. The preliminary design stage has been completed and site inspections are currently ongoing. The centres are expected to be refurbished with dedicated isolation wards, robust infection control and waste management systems and upgraded laboratory facilities.

Preliminary work on establishing a Bio Safety Level 3 laboratory at the Medical Research Institute (MRI) has been initiated.

699,915 vulnerable populations, which include the elderly, disabled and those with chronic kidney disease from low income households benefited from social cash transfers in the months of April and May 2020.

Bank Group contribution

The World Bank has provided $217.56 million in financing for the project. This includes a $35 million loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), $180.84 million from the International Development Association (IDA), and a grant of $1.72 million from the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF).

Partners

Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 management strategy is led by the Ministry of Health, and is being implemented with support from a network of development partners including WHO, UNICEF and other United Nations agencies. The Bank has actively participated in the Emergency Health Cluster meetings, chaired by the WHO, and is also Co-Chair of the Health Development Partner Working Group, which will be coordinating the medium- to long-term plans for health preparedness. UNICEF has also been contracted under the project to support the Ministry of Health in the procurement of essential medical consumables and PPEs. The regular dialogue and coordination with the partner network has helped prevent duplication and has enabled the Bank to identify the gaps in the country’s emergency response strategy and to address these gaps through the project. This is strengthened by the close working relationship with the Ministry of Health, established through the previous and ongoing projects including the Primary Health Care Systems Strengthening Project (PSSP).

Since 2004, the World Bank has funded two major health sector development projects in Sri Lanka, aimed at strengthening the health system service delivery, and quality of care, improving emergency treatment unit facilities, and preparing the system to respond to emerging health challenges. These investments have helped to strengthen the health service delivery network, which has been the cornerstone of Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 response strategy. Moving forward, the project will continue to develop emergency health care services at the secondary and tertiary levels, in line with national strategies and priorities, and will build capacities and establish emergency response systems, mechanisms and facilities that will benefit the population of Sri Lanka in years to come.

The activities will also complement the work being carried out under the ongoing Bank-funded PSSP project, which aims to strengthen healthcare service delivery at the primary care level. The COVID-19 project addresses health facilities beyond the primary care level, and in this way will support the continuum of care and overall health sector development plans financed by the government and the development partner network.

Beneficiaries

The project has benefited the entire population of Sri Lanka by supporting the emergency response, contributing to saving lives. While infected people, medical and emergency personnel and service providers, and high risk populations, such as the elderly, disabled and chronic kidney disease patients from low income households have benefited in particular; through population based preventive measures, the project has touched the lives of everyone in Sri Lanka. Further, by focusing on strengthening the capacity of the public health system throughout the country for future pandemic preparedness, it will continue to benefit the people of Sri Lanka.

English Brief : https://www.worldbank.org/en/results/2020/10/21/sri-lanka-covid-19-response-saving-lives-today-preparing-for-tomorrow

Sinhala Brief : https://www.worldbank.org/si/results/2020/10/21/sri-lanka-covid-19-response-saving-lives-today-preparing-for-tomorrow

Tamil Brief : https://www.worldbank.org/ta/results/2020/10/21/sri-lanka-covid-19-response-saving-lives-today-preparing-for-tomorrow



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Central Bank to Deal with the ‘Elephant in the Room’

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CBSL has said that it would explain its position upon being offered the requested opportunity

Seeks opportunity to apprise parliament of substantial salary hikes to CBSL staff

By Sanath Nanayakkare

The Central Bank of Sri Lanka embroiled in a controversy pertaining to about 70% salary hike for CBSL employees despite the ongoing economic crisis, has expressed its willingness to be answerable to an appropriate parliamentary committee in this regard.

Issuing a press release, the Bank stated that it seeks an opportunity to apprise the Members of the Parliament in this context.Reproduced below is the press release issued by the Central Bank yesterday.

Clarification by CBSL on Salary Hike

“Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) has taken note of recent news reports in the media on comments and remarks attributed to some Members of Parliament at recent proceedings of the House with regard to the latest revision of remuneration of employees of the CBSL that were approved by the Governing Board under the triennial Collective Agreement entered into with the Trade Unions covering the period2024- 2026.”

“In this regard, the Governing Board at its meeting held on 21.02.2024, requested the Governor of CBSL, acting in terms of the Section 80 (2) (b) of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka Act No. 16 of 2023, to make a written request to the President in his capacity as the Minister of Finance, through whom the CBSL normally communicates with Parliament, to seek an opportunity to apprise the Members of the Parliament through an appropriate parliamentary committee of the process and rationale pertaining to the recent revision of remuneration of CBSL staff.”

“The Governor has accordingly made a written request on 22.02.2024.”

“CBSL will explain its position upon being offered the requested opportunity or on receipt of a request for information,” CBSL said.

On Feb. 19, The Island published its lead story titled, “Over 70% salary hike for CBSL employees: Gevindu demands explanation from Finance Minister.”

“Dissident SLPP lawmaker Gevindu Cumaratunga said on Feb. 18 that the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government owed an explanation as to how the Governing Board of the Central Bank had approved a massive salary increase to CBSL employees at a time the country was experiencing a deep socio-economic crisis,” the news story said in its beginning.

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Govt getting bullish about prospects for Hambantota International Port

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The discussion centred around the theme,’ utilizing key infrastructure, particularly in Hambantota and Colombo to spur economic growth

Focuses on its connectivity to Myanmar, East China and Africa

In a recent discussion convened at the Presidential Secretariat, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has articulated his vision for economic development and infrastructure investment, particularly focusing on the master plans for strategic tourism zones in the Eastern Province, the Colombo City and the Western Region and Greater Hambantota, according to the President’s Media Division.

The President has emphasized the economic potential of Hambantota, envisioning it as a pivotal hub for infrastructure development and connectivity. He has highlighted plans to link Hambantota to the Myanmar port, with further extensions anticipated up to Chongqing in eastern China and down to Africa.

President Wickremesinghe has also stressed the importance of leveraging the extensive investments already made in infrastructure in Hambantota, despite previous challenges.

“We have spent a significant amount on infrastructure here, and despite facing crises, it is imperative to capitalize on these investments,” President Wickremesinghe has said.

He has disclosed plans for allocating thousands of acres of land for investment zones, with additional acquisitions sought in the Moneragala area.

Moreover, the President advocated for strategic expansion into new areas, including Avissawella and Eheliyagoda, to alleviate urban congestion and foster new city centres. Plans for a North Colombo port expansion and potential industrial and IT parks were also discussed, aiming to attract investments and spur economic growth.

“We must concentrate our efforts and funds on key infrastructure, particularly in Hambantota and Colombo,” President Wickremesinghe stated.

He expressed confidence in attracting investors for heritage cities like Colombo once land availability is ensured. However, he acknowledged the need for continued investment in Hambantota to propel its development, highlighting it as the next significant hub after Colombo.

The development of Trincomalee as a major investment zone, in collaboration with India, emerged as a priority during the discussion. President Wickremesinghe announced plans for a joint working group to implement development initiatives in Trincomalee, emphasizing the importance of bilateral cooperation in driving economic growth and regional stability.

President Wickremesinghe’s remarks underscored a strategic shift towards targeted infrastructure development, emphasizing the pivotal roles of Hambantota and the Eastern Province in economic growth and positioning it as a key player alongside Colombo in Sri Lanka’s development trajectory, the President’s Media said.

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Colombo Fashion Week 2024 to shine spotlight on sustainability

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Colombo Fashion Week will take place across multiple locations on Galle Road, it’s a new format”, says Ajai Vir Singh, Managing Director, CFW Holdings.

Colombo Fashion Week (CFW) returns from March 6th to 9th 2024, for its 21st edition, marking a significant milestone and promising a future brimming with innovation for the fashion industry of Sri Lanka. This year the platform focuses on multiple locations around Colombo to make the city come alive, as it’s also an apt time for travelers to experience the creativity and cultural richness of Colombo.

Since 2003, CFW has played a pivotal role in reviving, guiding, and building pride in Sri Lanka’s fashion industry. From humble beginnings featuring a handful of designers, it has blossomed into a thriving ecosystem embracing sustainability and empowering young talent. More than 80% of today’s leading Sri Lankan designers are the product of CFW’s development system, a testament to its impact.

Under the leadership of Managing Director Ajai Vir Singh, CFW has championed sustainability, introducing initiatives such as Ethical Fashion Day, the Responsible Fashion Summit, and the innovative tool, Responsible Meter. These efforts have positioned CFW as a leader in ethical fashion globally, attracting renowned designers from Europe, Australia, and South Asia, alongside esteemed Sri Lankan designers, fostering knowledge exchange, and showcasing the burgeoning talent of Sri Lankan designers alongside established industry names.

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