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Threat of a Covid vaccine?

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The media is full of cheers on the reported finding of a COVID-19 vaccine.

When the story broke out on Tuesday night, the BBC news presenter Mathew Amroliwala, was so excited about having to tell the world about this, with only a short line about it having to be kept in minus 80 degree temperature. This is said to be 90% effective. 

Is this the finding of the great preventive against COVID 19? There is certainly much more thinking to be done. A responder on France 24 was very clear in telling that the Pfizer vaccine had not been studied by peers and the various sectors of science and research, to justify its claim for 90% effectiveness.

On another TV channel, a scientist from South Africa, who is engaged in research on vaccine production, was very clear that this would be of no use to Africa and most of Asia. It was best described as a vaccine that could not be brought to the people, but the people had to go to it.

Cocid-19 is spreading hugely the world over, The US has the highest infections and the highest numbers dead from it for any country. Let’s not forget that India stands second in infections, with a low death rate, but the Deepavali and other celebrations could change this picture.

The whole world is certainly in the search for an effective vaccine. Russia claims its own Sputnik vaccine, but it has not been able to control the huge spread of Covid in  the current wave. China has claims to a vaccine, which is being tested in some other countries, but the world of Western Science has not  given any approval to it.

So why is this huge media spotlight for this Pfizer vaccine? Why do not the key sections of the Western media think of this as the answer to Covid -19, although President Trump himself has not claimed it to be his promised solution to the Covid pandemic? Is he still thinking of swallowing some insecticides to cure Covid? Will some US pharmaceutical company produce a suitable insecticide for this, before president-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on January 20, next year.

It looks like the name Pfizer is the cause for this huge celebration by the western media. Pfizer has produced many drugs that have been of benefit to humans.  These include blockbuster drug Lipitor (atorvastatin), used to lower LDL blood cholesterol; Lyrica (pregabalin) for neuropathic pain and fibromyalgia; Diflucan (fluconazole), an oral antifungal medication; Zithromax (azithromycin), an antibiotic; Viagra (sildenafil) for erectile dysfunction; and much more.

Pfizer has joined with a German pharmaceutical company in producing this new media hailed anti-COVID vaccine. It is useful to look at the real record of Pfizer, and its means of controlling the media and even medical profession, when judging the sudden hurrah for its COVID vaccine, which must be stored and delivered under 70 to 0 degrees Centigrade!

 This company has paid many fines to authorities in the US and other countries too, for huge fraud in the marketing of its drugs. The US Department of Justice has brought many charges against it for criminal and civil liability arising from the illegal promotion of certain pharmaceutical products. It paid US$ 2.3 million, the largest health care fraud settlement in the history of the US Department of Justice.  

It and its subsidiaries have pleaded guilty to a felony violation of the US Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDA) for misbranding Bextra, as an anti-inflammatory drug, later ouled from the market in 2005. Pfizer promoted the sale of Bextra for several uses and dosages that the FDA specifically declined to approve due to safety concerns.

In addition, Pfizer has agreed to pay US$ 1 billion to resolve allegations under the False Claims Act that the company illegally promoted four drugs – Bextra; Geodon – an antipsychotic drug; Zyvox – n an antibiotic; and Lyrica – an anti-epiletic drug. It also caused false claims to be submitted to government healthcare programs, for uses that were not medically accepted.

It also agreed to pay US$ 55 million in 2013, over the drug Protonix, having failed to warn people about the risk of kidney problems from this drug. 

If that is part of the Pfizer record in the US, let’s go elsewhere. It had to pay compensation to Nigerian families affected by a controversial drug trial in 1996. It paid US$ 175,000 each to four families, after 11 children died and dozens were left disabled, after  Pfizer gave them the experimental ant-meningitis drug – Trovan. This is well reported by BBC.  

From Africa to Europe, for three years Pfizer Italy provided free cell phones, photocopiers, printers and televisions to doctors, arranged for vacations (such as ‘weekend in Gallipoli”, weekend with companion’ and ‘weekend in Rome”) in return for promises by doctors to recommend Pfizer products.

The New York headquarters of Pfizer has agreed to pay a total of US$ 60.2 million in penalties to settle documented charges of bribery. The Securities and Exchange Commision says that Prozer Italy employees went out of their way to “falsely” book the expenses under ‘misleading” labels like “Professional Training” and “Advertising in Scientific Journals”.

This penalty id roughly half a percent of the company’s annual profit that exceeded $10 billion a year on global sales of $67.4 billion in 2011.

For the interesting record, Italy was not the only country where Pfizer has been accused of bribing doctors and local officials. “Prizer took shortcuts to boost business in several Eurasian countries, bribing government officials in Bulgaria, Croatia, Kazakhstan and Russia to the tune of millions of dollars’, says the principal deputy assistant attorney general of the US Department of Justice, Criminal Division.

We in Sri Lanka are not wholly ignorant of how pharmaceutical companies use crooked and unlawful means to influence those in our medical profession, the organizations and institutions  engaged in public health, as well as the political forces that take important decisions on the management of health services, and the availability of drugs, too.

We are just in the midst of a huge political and administrative debate on the matter, particularly over the tracing of COVID-19.

It is time to keep an open eye, locally and internationally, over Pfizer and any other COVID-19 vaccine or other treatment and handling of the pandemic. A vaccine that can be stored and delivered in our own temperatures – and not minus 80 C degreees – is also what we should be watchful of, whatever the global media says about it.  

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Opinion

Amend Cabinet decision on new Rajagiriya – Nawala Canal bridge

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The Cabinet, at its meeting held on 09.11.2020 granted approval for the construction of a new bridge across the Rajagiriya-Nawala Canal (Kolonnawa Canal), connecting Angampitiya Road, at Ethul kotte, and School Lane, at Nawala.

As a resident of Nawala, I would like to make two proposals in this regard. One is to reconsider the suitability of the proposed link between School Lane and Angampitiya Road to connect Nawala with Ethul Kotte. The second is to make an additional link between Narahenpita and Nawala, by constructing a new bridge across the Kinda Canal, which flows past the Wall-Tile Showroom on the Nawala-Narahenpita Road and the McDonald’s outlet at Rajagiriya. This will provide a direct access from Narahenpita to Ethul Kotte, and at the same time avoiding congestion on Kirimandala Mawatha and Parliament Road, during peak hours.

The decision to construct a bridge, linking Nawala and Ethul Kotte, is commendable, but the selection of the site for the bridge needs reconsideration. Once Ethul Kotte is linked with Nawala, through Angampitiya Road, and School Lane, one would expect a substantial increase in the volume of traffic on these two roads. Located on School Lane is the Janadhipathi Balika Vidyalaya, a popular girls’ school in the area. Even at present, the area around School Lane has heavy traffic comprising mostly school vans and other vehicles bringing children to and from this school, in the mornings and afternoons. Linking School Lane with Ethul Kotte will make this traffic situation worse, causing congestion.

A better option is to connect Ethul Kotte with Nawala, by constructing a bridge, linking New Jayaweera Mawatha in Ethul Kotte, with Koswatta Road, in Nawala. A by-lane, branching off from the Koswatta Road leading up to the canal, at an appropriate location, could be used for this purpose. On this link, only a short distance of roadway about 250 m, needs to be developed, whereas the School Lane extension needs development of at least 700 m of roadway. Earlier, motorists used Koswatta Road as a shortcut to access Parliament Road. Now, turning right, at the Parliament Road junction, is not permitted, and hence, there isn’t much traffic on this road at present.

One advantage of extending the Koswatta Road, to Ethul Kotte is that it could be linked in the other direction, with Muhandiram Dabare Mawatha, on the Narahenpita side, providing a direct route for motorists coming along Thimbirigasyaya Road to go to Ethul Kotte. With this link, it will be possible for traffic to avoid both Parliament Road and Chandra de Silva Mawatha, Nugegoda, the only two access roads to Kotte, from Colombo, available at present.

To complete this access, it is necessary to construct a bridge across Kinda Canal, linking Galpotta Road with Muhandiram Dabare Mawatha, after extending both roadways up to the canal. This area is still not developed, except for a reservation made for a playground on the Nawala side. A new roadway, which is only about half a km distance, is necessary, and this could be built without any problem linking these two roadways. Galpotta Road could be linked with Koswatta Road via Ratanajothi Mawatha, which crosses the Rajagiriya–Nawala Road, at Koswatta Junction.

The construction of these two new bridges, one across Kolonnawa Canal and the other across Kinda Canal, will provide a direct route from Colombo to Ethul Kotte, via Muhandiram Dabare Mawatha, Galpotta Road, Koswatta Road and New Jayaweera Mawatha. This link will reduce congestion, at present experienced on Kirimandala Road and Parliament Road.

 

Dr JANAKA RATNASIRI

Nawala

 

 

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Opinion

A tribute to my mother-in-law

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Appreciation

My mother-in-law, Mandrani Gunasekera, nee Malwatta, passed away peacefully in our home a few weeks ago. The funeral arrangements were complicated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic situation, and the resultant weekend curfew in Colombo.

It is a privilege for me to reflect on my mother-in-law and her role in our lives. Vocationally, she was a practitioner of one of the noblest professions on earth, that of being a teacher, with the responsibility of educating and molding young lives. First in the public-school system, then overseas, and finally in Colombo’s leading international schools. As someone who topped her batch at the Peradeniya University, teaching was an unusual and perhaps unglamourous choice, but it demonstrated her commitment to the service of others.

In private life, she, was a mother to two daughters, one of whom is my wife, and their strength of character are a tribute to her. Her four grandchildren, including my two sons, are, I am sure, left in no doubt, that their mothers were raised in the home of a teacher, with a strong commitment to both education and discipline. I saw first-hand, that my mum-in- law, was an enabler and facilitator, guiding and molding her family. Her eldest grand-daughter, Thisuni Welihinde’s wedding late last year, was a milestone for her and we were never sure who was more excited, the bride or her grandmother.

To me, she was always “Ammi” and having lost my own mother when I was very young, I was determined to treat my wife’s mother, as I would my own. After my father- in- law’s death, a decade ago, it was a joy to care for my mother-in- law, in our home. Ammi was retired and lived a life of leisure. Which was a good counter balance to our own lives, which always seemed to be so hectic and rushed. I also learned from my mother -in-law, that being effective did not come from being prominent.

Ammi was also regular at Church, every Sunday, and was also an active member of a mid-week ladies Bible study, and prayer group, who were also her group of friends. They always ended their meetings, with brunch if not lunch. It was special joy that we were able to celebrate her 80th birthday with a “surprise party” at home, with her friends, about six weeks before her passing.

Ammi enjoyed the simple joys of life, and of our home, whether it was meal times, the constant chatter and boisterous behaviour of her two teenage grandsons, our weekend activities or family vacations to most of which she accompanied us. She was also an avid rugby fan, especially of Royal College rugby, since her brother had captained Royal and now her grandson was playing. In fact, she used to attend many matches and the 75th Bradby encounter last year, held in the shadow of the Easter Sunday bomb attacks, was her last, to witness her brother honoured on the field with other past captains and her grandson take the field, as a junior player.

This strange Covid-19 pandemic year, and its unprecedented lockdown ,enabled us to spend lots of time together, as family. Our lockdown daily routine, which included lots of sleep and rest, was centered on the daily family lunch, either preceded, or followed by family prayer. Ammi became the most committed and enthusiastic participant in our family mid-day gatherings. It was a great blessing, in disguise, that enabled us to spend the last few months, with noting much else to do, but enjoy each other’s company. While we miss her, we have the hope that she is with our Lord Jesus Christ. Her favourite Bible scripture in Psalm 91, states “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High abides under the shadow of the Almighty …. and with long life I will satisfy him and show him, My salvation”.

 

By Harim Peiris

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Opinion

The Benefits of Homeschooling

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COVID-19 has changed our normal activities. What we were used to doing in 2019, is no longer a routine in 2020. In the midst of this pandemic the schools were closed down, and the decision to reopen schools by the Sri Lankan government and the trade unions speaking against it, made me ponder on an alternative.

Education in developing countries have often been a sensitive topic, Parents would leave no stone unturned to put their child to a ‘Big School’. How many of the classrooms in ‘Big Schools’ are capable of making seating arrangements by keeping a distance of one meter in accordance with the COVID-19 regulations?

Online Teaching has been introduced as an alternative, but isn’t there something better than that?

This would be the best time to introduce Homeschooling.

Homeschooling is where parents and guardians teach and groom their children. There are many parents capable of handling children and providing a comfortable atmosphere at home for a child to grow up and learn; there are parents who are skilled in particular trades and crafts, and teaching these to their children at a younger age gives the child an opportunity to be a skilled individual.

Several decades back the role of a Governess played an important role in upbringing children in Sri Lankan households. Many would have read about Helen Keller, a deaf and blind student who went on to be a graduate; she was groomed and taught by her governess Anne Sullivan, who taught her at home, this is a successful example of Homeschooling.

It is an arrogant attitude to scoff that parents groom their children into good citizens without sending them to school. Inferior Schooling and Teaching Methods have been a bane to a child’s psychology and mentally handicapping the confidence of a child. The truth is, schools no longer groom students, they have become Examination Centres, that judge the performance of their students through results.

It will be interesting to look into some of the criticisms made by sceptics on homeschooling. One is the subject knowledge of the parents; let’s be honest, how many of us use Titration in Chemistry in our daily lives, do we even want to try it? How many of us want to know the Chronology of the Kings that ruled the Country, has it ever disturbed us?

On the other hand, Homeschooling does not mean that teachers would no longer be needed, the teacher can play a broader role as a governess or a trainer to fill in the subject gaps that the parents are unable to provide for their child.

Another criticism is that children will not learn to socialise without schools. Isn’t Covid-19 regulations discouraging socialising by asking us to avoid public gatherings and maintaining a distance of 1 meter, isn’t socialising with a bad friend as disastrous as a deadly disease?

It will be interesting to see how the trade unions are going to respond to this if homeschooling becomes successful, as they will be the worst affected. But they could always become good Governesses or Subject Experts and play a guiding role in the homeschooling venture. This country now needs more Florence Nightingales to treat the sick and more Anne Sullivans to groom the kids.

 

HASALA PERERA

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