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Towards a disability-friendly health system

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Gaps in the health care system burden those with disabilities with an added cross. In the backdrop of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities which fell on December 3, we spoke to many stakeholders to push for collective national interventions to enhance the quality of life of those with disability.

by Randima Attygalle

Nisha Shareef from Kandy was born with a rare spinal cord abnormality which left her wheelchair-bound for life. Introduced to rehabilitation at age 11, Nisha’s quality of life improved. Thanks to the vocational training she received through the Ragama Vocational Training School, she learned the art of watch-mending. Today at 50-years, she runs her own business in the Kandy town, her example empowering fellow wheelchair users.

Health challenges for those in Nisha’s shoes are many. Inability to control the passing of urine, catheter and diaper dependency, frequent urine infections and bed sores are among them. Management of all these issues is costly says Nisha who lobbies for a special concession for adult diapers and other medication required by those with disabilities. “Accessibility to public toilets including those at hospitals is a nightmare for us,” she says. Nisha urges the health authorities to have disability-friendly infrastructure at hospitals and to dedicate a help desk and a hotline at least at Teaching Hospitals to assist those with disabilities.

Many young girls and women with mental disabilities and those who are vision impaired left alone at homes are often sexually exploited, she points out proposing a state-supported day-care system to shelter them while their parents or other care givers are at work. This would help ensure their safety.

Having fallen off a rambutan tree at ten, Lasantha Chandimal from Dampe off Madapatha, became paralyzed. Having lost both his parents by 15, Lasantha’s life took a turn for the worse. The Samaritans at the Ragama Rehabilitation Hospital not only uplifted him from a bedridden patient to a wheelchair user but also trained him to maneuver a special tricycle. Lasantha, 36-years old today, has lost his job with the closure of the plastic factory he worked at. His wife, a wheelchair user herself, also worked there.

A spinal cord injury makes Lasantha often susceptible to kidney dysfunction. “I’m a catheter-user and I developed a urine infection during the lockdown which left me helpless with no access to medical treatment. With my temperature running high due to the infection, I called for an ambulance several times to no avail. Finally I had no choice but to scrape my savings and get treatment at a private hospital.”

The absence of special assistance at OPDs, indifference of the support staff and exploitation of those with disability by some, makes matters worse. Improving disabled-health literacy at ground level, improving sanitation facilities for people with disability in hospitals, sensitizing support staff and creating awareness on available help devices are among Lasantha’s suggestions to ease the burden of this community.

Over a billion of people, about 15% of the world’s population, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) have some form of disability. Half those with disability cannot afford healthcare, compared to a third of those without disability. People with disability are more than twice as likely to find healthcare providers’ skills inadequate and people with disability are four times more likely to report being treated badly; and they are nearly three times more likely to be denied healthcare, WHO affirms. The World Bank literature on ‘Disability Inclusion’ documents that ‘many persons with disabilities have additional underlying health needs that make them particularly vulnerable to severe symptoms of COVID-19, if they contract it. Persons with disabilities may also be at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 because information about the disease, including the symptoms and prevention, are not provided in accessible formats such as print material in Braille, sign language interpretation, captions, audio provision, and graphics.’

Translating sensitization on ‘disability and rehabilitation’ into practical reality is urgent, points out Manique Gunaratne, Manager Specialized Training and Disability Resource Centre of the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon. Manique who lost her vision in her 20s due to Retinitis pigmentosa had no proper local guidance to a rehabilitation system. The overseas doctors whom she consulted empowered her on ICT systems available for vision impaired people. “This has made me what I am today,” says the activist who lobbies for help desks which could offer guidance for people with disabilities and their families to make informed decisions. “Very often when a child with a disability is born, parents have no clue what to do with it. If the medical condition turns out to be disability, they are even more helpless,” notes Manique who also proposes a ‘Priority Card’ on health nee

ds and making disability representation stronger at policy-level within the health sector.

The role of collaboration between doctors, physiotherapists and the beneficiary in determining the best assistive device cannot be understated says H.D. Mala Nandani, Administrative Officer, Rehab Lanka which manufactures s

uch devices. “An assistive device has to be a customized and very often there is little awareness among the poorest of the poor who depend on a donated wheelchair which could very often compound the disability.” The National Secretariat for Persons with Disability provides a stipend for such devices, she adds. The local manufacturing volume of assistive devices should be increased for better availability, notes Mala who lost the use of one leg due to a vaccination mishap as a child. “At ground level, the knowledge of personal hygiene among those with disabilities is very poor; hence there should be a system similar to that of midwives to help the families of the disabled in terms of knowledge and guidance to proper health channels.”

The COVID emergency situation which put the local public health system under unprecedented strain has driven the health authorities to design new interventions including meeting the needs of people with disabilities, notes Dr. Shiromi Maduwage, Consultant Community Physician from the Youth, Elderly and Disability Unit of the Ministry of the Health. “We are now developing a system to reach out to those in need in future emergencies. We have already launched a programme to empower care givers during the pandemic. This is facilitated by the National Secretariat for Persons with Disability.

A system to improve the COVID-related health messages through Braille and sign language is also underway she says. While the state provides a monthly disability allowance, certain gaps in the system including the need for disabled-friendly infrastructure have been identified; and these need to be bridged, says Maduwage. “The elderly population is growing and disability will be an added burden. Community based rehabilitation is already being strengthened by the health sector to mitigate the challenges and ground level officials sensitized though the MOH divisions.”

Upgrading the school curriculum to incorporate health issues of those with disabilities including their sexual an

d reproductive health and safety can help sensitize future health policy makers to 

catering for their needs, remarks Dr. Harischandra Yakandawala, Medical Director of the Family Planning Association and Consultant to the project on sexual and reproductive health during emergencies. “People with disabilities often have barriers in accessing information and we are collaborating with several agencies in addressing this including making online counseling services accessible by victims of gender based violence.” Women and girls with disabilities are the most vulnerable to sexual violence which could result in unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, he says citing the need for organized shelters to provide care for young girls and women enabling their caregivers to be productively employed during day time.

Encouraging all parents to “dream for their child” despite odds, Samanmali Sumanasena, Professor in Paedeatric Disability and Head of the Department of Disability Studies, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, urges all partners in paediatric health services to support families with children with mental and physical disabilities. “Research shows that early intervention can make children more cognitively competent and they can be developed into very productive citizens”. In this process, access to correct information, proper referral systems, child intervention services, updated technology for optimum benefits, access to general health care and family support systems are imperative, she says. Training parents and caregivers to routinely intervene to improve their children’s quality of life is important, she points out. Lack of specialists who

 can address the concerns of children with special needs in the country is a major bottleneck in enabling wider reach. The Special Needs Programme which was launched in Colombo District in July to meet this challenge is being expanded to the rest of the island as well, says Prof. Sumanasena.

Rehabilitation which is recognized as a human right by the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, improves the functioning status of people with disability to achieve the highest possible functional outcome, notes Dr. Sachithra Adhikari, Acting Consultant in Rehabilitation Medicine from the Rheumatology and Rehabilitation Hospital, Ragama.

“Lack of an established care pathway directed towards rehabilitation following initial treatment of disability, is a major drawback. Rehabilitation services are provided only by a few hospitals which hardly meet the need.” She goes on to note that the need to generate awareness on the importance of rehabilitation and its cost benefit both among the healthcare professionals and the public is urgent. Drawing attention to limitations in available rehabilitation personnel and infrastructure, she said the lack of coordinated service provision, leadership for financial and administrative support required for rehabilitation service are problems that need addressing. Also, social acceptance of those with disabilities rather than mere sympathy is important together with sensitivity to their plight.



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Confessions of a global gypsy

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Providing hospitality to Prince Philip  

by Dr. Chandana

(Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil

President – Chandi J. Associates Inc.

Consulting, Canada Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum

Today, instead of chronologically narrating another episode of the story of my career, I will write about a customer I met and provided hospitality services twice, in the UK in 1984 and in Jamaica in 1998. Philip Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg was born nearly 100 years ago (on 10 June 1921) in Greece into Greek and Danish royal families. He had a non-English, but a rich continental European mix – German, Greek, Danish, Hungarian, French, Swiss, Bohemian, Lithuanian, Russian, Swedish, Belgian, and Dutch. His family was exiled from Greece when he was an infant. After being educated in France, Germany and the United Kingdom (UK), he joined the British Royal Navy as an officer in 1939. He became a British subject in 1947, changed his family name to Mountbatten and married Princess Elizabeth, who became the Queen of the United Kingdom in 1952. Having made a British Prince in 1957, and over the years many other titles and honours were bestowed to him, but I will refer to him as Prince Philip, who was unique in that he was the longest-lived male member ever in the British royal family.

 

Two VIP visitors from UK

 

From 1995 to 1998 I was the General Manager of the largest hotel in the capital city of Jamaica – Kingston. Le Meridien Jamaica Pegasus Hotel (Pegasus) was operated by the largest British hotel company at that time – Forte PLC, and I represented that company in Jamaica. Along with two sister hotels – Guyana Pegasus Hotel and Pegasus Reef Hotel in Sri Lanka, Jamaica Pegasus was planned and developed in late 1960s and early 1970s by British Overseas Airways Corporation or BOAC (now British Airways) and Trust House Forte (later Forte PLC). Because of the hotel’s British connections, we had a large percentage of British travellers coming to Kingston staying at the Pegasus. Thirty rooms of the Pegasus were booked on back-to-back basis for the crews of British Airways over many years. The English cricket team stayed at the Pegasus, during all their matches played in Jamaica.

The British High Commissioner in Jamaica at that time had become a friend of mine. One day in early 1998, while attending a private party at my apartment at the Pegasus with his wife, the High Commissioner gave me heads up about two separate visits by two VIPs from the UK – Former (1990-1997) Prime Minister John Major (now Sir John) and Prince Philip. I lived in the UK when John Major became the surprise successor of Margret Thatcher in 1990, after the famous cabinet revolt. I was glued to the TV every evening in my London home, wondering how a person with such humble beginnings became the most powerful person in the UK. I became an admirer of John Major, and was excited about the opportunity to meet and greet him. On the other hand, having read and heard about Prince Philip’s greatest legacy (apart from his marathon marriage to Elizabeth II) – a lifetime of controversial, cringeworthy and sometimes outright appalling comments or insensitive jokes, I was not an admirer of Prince Philip. However, I was happy that he would be staying at the Pegasus for two days.

 

Arrival in Jamaica

 

Prince Philip arrived at the Pegasus in the evening of 23rd March 1998. He was accompanied by the British High Commissioner and a male travelling companion, who had a variety of roles such as Secretary, Butler and Valet. Given his reputation, my expectations were not high. However, I was pleasantly surprised about the jovial mood and politeness of Prince Philip that evening. He looked fit and athletic, and did not look 76, which was his age at that time. For someone who just arrived in the Caribbean after a cross-Atlantic flight, he appeared to be fresh. His suite and the adjoining room for his Secretary were on the 15th floor furthest from the elevators. While walking towards his suite he told me jokingly, “Hotels forget that I am an old man when they always allocate me a suite which requires the longest walk from the lift.” When I apologised, he said: “That is alright, I need the exercise.”

 

Chat about the past

 

The next day, during his breakfast at the suite, I met Prince Philip again. I checked how his first night at the Pegasus was, and he was happy with all arrangements. He looked well rested. We chatted briefly about the weather and his previous visits to Jamaica, as well as about his stay with Queen Elizabeth at Guyana Pegasus Hotel a few years ago and visits to Sri Lanka. Then I walked with him, on his way out to a meeting scheduled at the British High Commission. While walking he surprised me by asking: “have we met before?” Assuming that this is his dry sense of humour he is famous for, I replied, “Yes, Your Royal Highness, we met last evening.” He laughed and said, “No, no, I mean before, years ago. I remember your face and your afro hair style.” I then said, “I served you once at the Dorchester Hotel, but that was 14 years ago, when I was a Banquet Waiter, I cannot imagine you remembering all Waiters who served you at numerous royal banquets, Sir.” Prince Philip looked straight at my eyes for a few seconds and said, “I think that I remember you from the Dorchester.”

A royal banquet at the Dorchester, London in 1984

When I was a graduate student at the University of Surrey, UK in 1983 and 1984, to make sufficient money to pay the rent, I worked at the Dorchester in Park Lane, London, as a part-time Banquet Waiter. Although it was the best hotel in the UK at that time, most Waiters who served in banquets were part-time employees. Traditionally most royal banquets in London were held at the Buckingham Palace or at a historic hotel with long-standing connections with royalty that have led to it sometimes being referred to as an annexe to the Buckingham Palace – The Claridge’s in Mayfair, London. In early 1984, after many efforts by the top management team, the Dorchester secured a prestigious booking for the first royal banquet ever to be held at the Dorchester, since its opening in 1931.

As this banquet would enhance the image of the Dorchester, the management decided to re-train the full banquet service team of full-time and part-time employees. It was a two week fully-paid special training. We were told by the Banquet Manager that the five waiters who perform the best in the practical test and the exam at the end of the special training session, will be given the opportunity of serving the 27 VIPs who would sit at the head table. These VIPs included the Queen and Prince Philip, King of Bahrain, The Lord Chancellor of the UK and the Prime Minister of the UK (Margret Thatcher). Thanks to my practical training I received by German and Swiss food and beverage service experts at the Ceylon Hotel School in the early 1970s, I managed to do well at this training session and become one of the best five waiters. I was chosen to serve the Queen and Prince Philip and the King of Bahrain at the royal banquet held on 12th April 1984. I was one of the two non-white waiters among a service brigade of 50 who worked at that royal banquet. Perhaps that may be a reason for Prince Philip to remember me after 14 long years.

A fundraiser private dinner in Kingston in 1998

In 1998, the Chairman of the Pegasus Board and the individual shareholder with the largest percentage of shares, was Mr. John Issa. He was also the Chairman of his family-owned resort chain – SuperClubs. Mr. Issa’s family were the pioneers of tourism in Jamaica for a few generations. His wife, son and twin daughters were all well-qualified and held senior positions within the family business. I was very close to the Issa family. Towards the end of 1997, Mr. Issa had a chat with me and said that he and his family will need two suites at the Pegasus for six months, as their beautiful house in a posh area of Kingston will be fully renovated to host an important event. As their house was already well-appointed and well-maintained, to me it sounded strange, but I did not ask too many questions from the Chairman of the Board.

A few days before the visit of Prince Philip to Jamaica, the Issa family returned to their upgraded house. At that point Mr. Issa informed me that his family would be hosting Prince Philip for a private dinner in their house, the day after Prince Philip’s arrival. As it was a fundraiser event the invitees for the dinner were rich and famous Jamaicans. Mr. Issa disliked wearing the tie and jacket and therefore, the dress code was informal. A six-course menu with matching wines were planned. Pegasus was asked to look after some of the logistics, while SuperClubs looked after catering.

 

The event was a success in terms of quality, satisfaction and fundraising. It was like musical chairs, when those invitees who sat next to and in front of Prince Philip, were rotated from course to course. After the event was over, jokingly I asked Mr. Issa: “Would there be an opportunity for me to address you as SIR JOHN in the near future?” He laughed and said: “Chandi, I need to do much more than one fundraiser to earn a title such as that”. I think that I read Mr. Issa’s mind, correctly.

 

Goodbye

 

The next morning, I handled Prince Philip’s departure from Pegasus. When he saw me at his suite, he asked, “You, again?” By then I have gotten used to his dry sense of humour. I think that he joked often with an intention to put people at ease, but at times was misunderstood as being sarcastic. After a firm hand shake and exchange of smiles, I said goodbye and bon voyage to Prince Philip.

Years later when I watched four seasons of the award-winning Netflix series ‘The Crown’ with my wife, I realized how complex and at times, difficult it was for him to play a supportive ceremonial role for 69 years from the time his wife became the Queen of the UK and the Commonwealth in 1952. He was fully dedicated to the institution and had a deep sense of duty, perhaps stemmed from his naval officer training and distinguished military career. He was a reliable husband for 73 long years.

Prince Philip served as a patron, president, or member of over 780 organisations, and his key legacy will be his work as the Chairman of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, a self-improvement program for young people aged 14 to 24 founded by Prince Philip in the UK in 1956 and expanded to 144 nations, over the decades. He was a good man. “Goodnight Sweet Prince!”

chandij@sympatico.ca

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ODEL Launches its vivacious Summer Collection

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The longing for a place or a face, is something we have all experienced in the past year. Yet the tides have turned, and as life gets slowly back to normal, the ODEL Summer collection, “Wish you were here” celebrates those cherished throwbacks to good times; The love, the laughter and having it all back again. With a range of stylishly comfortable silhouettes, accessories, shoes and bags, the collection welcomes the dawn of a new year, while looking back at those wonderful days with fondness.

Inspired by all things island, ODEL’s Summer collection lives up to its theme of ‘Wish You Were Here’. And indeed, you most certainly will wish you were at ODEL, not just once but everyday this season as ODEL introduces a range of delightful products which are a veritable burst of island blooms and colors that will get you right into a mood of Summer fun and frolic as well as traditional Avurudu celebrations.

You can shop ODEL with complete ease of mind, with a host of bank offers as well as special promotions, to make your Avurudu all the more festive. What’s more, this season you can shop till you drop at ODEL, from 10 AM all the way to 10 PM!

“This season, vibrant blooms will come in to play across ladies’, men’s as well as kids’ categories. The collection comprises of a stunning selection of silhouettes in joyful, celebratory hues such as Red, Orange as well as Green which is the designated auspicious color of Avurudu this year. Sri Lanka being the tropical paradise that it is, we have kept the fabric light and breathable with the perfect blend of cottons and linens, which are well suited to our climate” said Desiree Karunaratne, Group Director Marketing of Softlogic Group.

The overall direction for this Summer’s collection is ‘comfort first’. In the ladies’ line up, you will see cascading shapes with layers and fluidity. Staples such as floral summer dresses, shorts, tropical co-ord sets, palazzo pants, crop tops and cover ups are making a comeback. Wide-leg trousers made for comfort, floaty dresses that could take you from an intimate festive gathering to a tropical get away far from Colombo, paper bag shorts pairable with those breezy tops with billowy sleeves or even a cute little crop top are all must- haves that will soon become your summer favorites.

For LUV Sri Lanka, the ‘Blossoms of Avurudu’ collection capture the essence of this festive period and portrays the beauty and magic that is created by the myriad of flowers that blossom across the island during this time with emphasis being placed on this year’s Avurudu colors which are green, white and blue. Conveyed via water colours by our team of designers, everything you see has been drawn from scratch. We have given special attention to the flowers that are synonymous with the culture and traditions of Sri Lankans, namely Erabadu, Asala, Nilmanel, Saman Pitchcha , Katurolu, Kadupul, Binara and Sapu.

The Men’s collection too revolves primarily around comfort, with tropical shirts, shorts, ombre- tie dye T shirts and crisp white tailored staples included in the collection. With a range of printed, casual shirts that can be paired with a casual short for a day by the pool, or a Chino from our wide collection for an evening out, the ODEL Men’s collection is versatile and interchangeable, working for a whole range of different looks. Not forgetting the wildly popular tie dye tee range by WYOS and Liberation, and the beloved formal range by Davidoff and Fellini, the ODEL Men’s department is fully equipped for all your festive shopping needs.

Kid’s Summer collection for both boys and girls, is affectionately labeled ‘Fruitloops’ this season as it’s a celebration of tropical fruits and their burst of vivacious colors. Boysenbear brings ever so cozy casual looks for little boys while Pinkabelle comes through with summer dresses, rompers and comfy shorts that your little princess will want to live in during these hot summer days.

ODEL Home, in keeping with the theme of vibrant colors and light-as-air textures, presents a range of home essentials for this festive season. Beautiful, vibrantly hued mosaic vases, modern ceramic vases in uncommon shapes and sizes, floral cushion covers in colorful linens and cottons, and a range of color coordinated bath room accessory sets, bath mats and towels, that will complete your home, while a unique collection of clay table wear, vintage brass oil lamps, batik cushion covers and table runners will make your Avurudu table the cynosure of all!

As for Backstage, resplendent dazzles are the order of the day! In order to coordinate and complement the bright and gleaming hues of Avurudu, Backstage will feature a range of jewelry that is intricate, exotic, colourful, dazzling and one of a kind.

Last but by no means least; Delight has an array of traditional Avurudu sweet treat hampers that are guaranteed to satisfy the gourmand in you with a stunning assortment of all-time favourites and some new ones too.

Sri Lanka’s leading Department store, ODEL certainly has it all for the entire family, so head over down to your favourite store for all your family’s needs this Avurudhu – ODEL has it all!

ODEL PLC is a fully owned subsidiary of Softlogic Holdings PLC, one of Sri Lanka’s largest diversified conglomerates with leading market positions in growing economic sectors in Retail, Healthcare, ICT, Automobiles, Leisure, and Financial Services. Softlogic holds authorised distributorships for key global power brands and employs over 11,000 employees at its offices in Sri Lanka and Australia today.

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Banana: the everyday super fruit

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by Randima Attygalle

Be it visiting loved ones for the new year or on any other occasion, taking a comb of bananas along is a time-honoured practice among Lankans. We are not alone in our love for this delectable fruit relished over centuries by mankind and herbivorous animals alike. One of the most widely grown fruit crops in the world, banana occupies a top place in the fresh fruit trade, second only to orange. Banana (Musa spp.) is native to South Asia and Western Pacific Region. The wild ancestors of cultivated banana Musa acuminate Colla and Musa balbisiana Colla are distributed in South and South East Asian countries including Sri Lanka.

The earliest written reference to bananas in Sri Lankan history goes back to about 341 A.D. the time of King Buddhadasa who is reputed to have been a skilled physician. The king had recorded in his Sarartha Sangragaha, the medicinal values of various parts of the banana plant. There is also evidence that the prehistoric inhabitants of the island, over 12,000 years ago had eaten wild bananas. The seed remains of ati-eta kesel which had been found in a carbonized state in the stone-age cave sites of Batadombalena in the Ratnapura District prove the long existence of banana in Sri Lanka.

“Botanically known to be a kind of berry, banana is the only fruit crop equally recognized as a fruit and a vegetable. Although ‘bananas’ and ‘plantains’ are commonly used to name the fruit, there is a distinction between them. The two major types of edible banana cultivars in the country are classified into banana and plantain each with different morphological characters and uses. “While banana is considered to be the ‘dessert’ type, plantains are the cooking type,” explains Dr. Kalyani Ketipearachchi, former Principal Scientist (Fruit Agronomy), Fruits Crops Research and Development Station of the Department of Agriculture in Gannoruwa, Peradeniya. Today what is known as ‘ornamental banana species’ have also found a place in home gardens, she adds.

While almost 1,000 varieties of bananas are found across the world, there are around 50 varieties locally found, says Dr. Ketipearachchi. Other than a few varieties introduced scientifically through international research projects such as Ambun types, Cavendish type, recommended varieties of Kandula and
Pulathisi, almost all the others are indigenous to the country, she adds.

Sri Lankan bananas are found in three main groups: the Mysore, the Kolikuttu and the Cavendish. Ambul and seeni bananas are of Mysore group. Kolikuttu, suwendel, puwalu and rath kehel belong to the Kolikuttu group, while embun, anamalu, nethrampalam and bim-kesel belong to the Cavendish group. While all these are popular dessert bananas, alu-kesel or ash plantain is a cooking variety. Among the cooking types are Kithala, Mondan, Etamuru, and Marathamana which are however not as common as alu-kesel. Nethrampalam, she says, is the most expensive local variety. “This is not commonly available as it is not yet cultivated on a large scale. Nethrapalam is believed to help improve eyesight and contains aphrodisiac qualities. Bimkesel or Navkesel is also a Cavendish type known as Sri Lankan Cavendish. The tree is of dwarf size and its fruit bunch almost touches the ground.

Bananas are a popular fruit crop ensuring high economic returns throughout the year. “This is the fruit’s biggest attraction, as it could be grown across the country even at very high elevations unlike other seasonal fruits such as rambutan or mango. Moreover, banana can be harvested in shorter periods, bearing fruit in about ten months,” notes Dr. Ketipearachchi. The economic life span of a tree is about four years.

Nearly 50,000 hectares of land are under banana in Sri Lanka – that’s about 54% of the total fruit cultivation extent, according to the Department of Agriculture. It is also our highest export fruit crop. According to the Export Development Board’s numbers, Cavendish has a high demand in the international market and ambul and rath kesel are also exported in small quantities. Middle East countries are the largest buyers of Lankan bananas, (largely Cavendish) followed by several European countries including Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands and the UK. Japan and New Zealand are also among lead buyers.

Along with its everyday presence in Lankan homes, the fruit is also part of the country’s religious and cultural fabric. All of it, be it leaves, flower bud, pseudo stem or corm, no part of this plant goes unutilized. It is also a popular weaning food for infants as it is easily digestible, soft and palatable. Rice and curry wrapped in banana leaves, popularly known as kesel-kola buth is much relished, giving a special flavour to a meal apart from its packaging function.

Harvard School of Public Health in their literature alludes to banana as the ‘iconic golden fruit’ which carries the title of the ‘first super-food endorsed by the American Medical Association in the early 20th century as a health food for children and a treatment for celiac disease. Rich in potassium, vitamin A and C, banana can easily fulfill the minimum daily fruit requirement of 100gms, says Dr. Renuka Jayatissa, Head of the Department of Nutrition at the Medical Research Institute and President of the Sri Lanka Medical Nutrition Association.

An advocate of ‘a banana a day keeps the doctor away,’ she remarks that banana is a natural intervention for tropical lands like ours to supplement the minerals lost due to heat. “It’s actually a wonder fruit with many advantages – nutrition value, affordability, availability and its natural peel-wrapper, makes it a safe and a practical fruit that could be eaten at any time without interfering with our meal patterns.”

Nearly 50% of Lankan adults have high blood pressure says the Clinical Nutritionist. Rich is potassium, the fruit is recommended for maintaining blood pressure levels. However, those with potassium-related health issues need to be conscious of how much of the fruit they eat, says Dr. Jayatissa. As it is rich in calories and carbohydrates, it should be eaten in moderation by diabetics and other high risk groups such as the overweight and the obese, to prevent glycemic overloading. “People unnecessarily fear banana which should not be the case. Eating in moderation is the key,” she notes.

The nutritional level of different kinds of bananas varies but this is not very significant, so people have the advantage of enjoying their preferred variety, Dr. Jayatissa says. “Ambul has more citric acid, and that’s the reason why it doesn’t agree with those who have citric acid intolerance. But such cases are now not very common. Rath-kesel has more beta-carotenes and is good for those with Vitamin A deficiency. Anamalu is recommended to treat diarrhea as well as constipation,” she explains emphasizing that this fruit can also meet the recommended daily dose of vitamin C as a buffer against COVID-19.

Citing Thailand’s example, she says that the wastage of this wonder fruit must be avoided. “In Thailand, hardly any bananas are thrown away. Overripe fruit is sun-dried and diced into small pieces which they enjoy with ice cream or smoothies. We can learn from this and even add it to our much loved curd. Banana peel soaked in water for three days is a good fertilizer”, Dr Jayatissa says, encouraging Lankans to be more creative with this abundant fruit.

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