By Sumaiya Rizvi
Minister of Healthcare and Nutrition and General Secretary of the SLFP Maithripala Sirisena speaks on the dengue situation, Karuna and Mangala joining the UNP
Q: What is your Ministry doing to fight dengue?
The spread of Dengue is not limited to Sri Lanka. More than 120 countries are affected by Dengue. But this year we are focused on destroying the Dengue mosquito breeding areas. In the past few years Dengue has spread increasingly. I initiated a Presidential Task Force to combat dengue. It includes the following list of ministries Health, Education, Disaster Management, Provincial Council, Mass media and Public administration. Apart from this the committees at rural, provincial, district and school level are tasked for the awareness campaigns. The provincial Council or the Pradeshiya Sabha has the responsibility to clean. The PHI’s visit homes and we take legal action on households that don’t comply to dengue prevention. Apart from awareness we are moving in chemical solutions like fumigation. Since we know that there isn’t a viable drug for dengue.
Q: You were seen promoting fumigation as the Health Ministries newest weapon in the fight against Dengue when scientists and experts have said the mosquitoes had evolved beyond these chemical pesticides?
The types of chemical we use in fumigation has changed over the years. We have seen it kill the mosquito. This is the latest technology that is used world over. Recently we brought down a chemical from Thailand called Dextron 40 similar to a drug but it’s a kind of saline that is given to a critical patient of dengue. A critical patient will be internally bleeding and this is used to stop the internal bleeding. We have brought down 200 bottles of it and the World Health Organization (WHO) will be providing us with 1200 bottles.
Q: More than 600 persons have been arrested for not cleaning their mosquito breeding areas. Who will you arrest for the abandoned gem mine pits and canals that breed mosquitoes in the millions?
It is not my responsibility or in my job to solve that. Even though the ministries are merged to combat dengue only the Central Environment Authority (CEA) had legal authority to take action against these people responsible for these mines and others. The CEA has to work against the respective local authorities. They have take action against some local authorities and the public needs to step up and take action against their individual responsibilities. Besides this type of action cannot be undertaken in a few days, it takes a longer time.
Q: What will you do to the Ministry officials who have delayed bringing BTI to the country?
No it has nothing to with the officers at my ministry. Importing BTI now is a trade activity between the Sri Lankan government and the Cuban government. Lat month we have made a payment of US $ 260,000 for a consignment of 10,000 units of BTI. After we paid and placed order will they produce the BTI. At the moment the delay is with sending these produced goods. We are in constant contact with our embassy in Cuba to expedite process of sending it to Sri Lanka. We continue to make several requests to send the BTI. Within the month we expect to get the Cuban BTI. In relation to the Sri Lankan form of the bacteria which is referred to as BT. We have told the experts to provide us with it. Now there is only a problem on how to use it. The private companies producing it have said that they cannot provide it for the consumer but only for the ministry’s use. And local authorities can use it with the guidance of the Ministry. So we are faced with little issues like this that is delaying the use of BTI.
Q: Why have we taken long to realize the need of BTI when India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have been using it for more than 8 years?
We have to be careful when using products as these. Now for an example something that is used in England cannot be used on Sri Lanka. The respective countries environmental, peoples habits and climatic conditions should be considered prior to using or approving the product.
Q: The Papaya leaf juice is used as a remedy to increase the platelets of dengue victims. What does the Government think of this?
We cant assure the Public on the Papaya leaf juice as a remedy to Dengue. Those have been found by those who are conducting research or so. It could be Ayurvedic or homeopathy but it has to be approved by the research institutes of our country. Not to mention that is not my responsibility that just because someone has discovered something to bottle it, approve it, give it to hospitals or otherwise. I cant ask the patients to use it.
Q: In Dehiwela and Mount Lavinia the garbage was not collected for over a month while those areas are declared the most dengue infested area. What will you do to help solve this issue?
It is not my job to collect garbage just because the local authorities have not done so. It is the job of the provincial councils and urban councils. Health Minister cannot interfere with job of the provincial councils. If the garbage is not collected then it a breakdown in the service of the Ministry in charge of the Provincial Councils and so on. Necessary legal action against these organizations should be under taken.
Q: When will the consignment of tablets that increase the platelet level be imported?
Just because a few officials at different occasion have made comments regarding a tablet we cant do so. They will tell to use papaya leaf juice or but the tablets but we can’t use it on the public without testing it. Our approval will only follow after research of the product.
Q: Why government hospitals like the Lady Ridgeway are are not apt to meet the increasing dengue patients?
It is normal for all the parents to bring their child to the Lady Ridgeway Hospital. Because of that when a child falls sick their first choice is to bring to Lady Ridgeway. We cant admit all at Lady Ridgeway. All other regional hospitals are also apt to deal with Dengue. They must first take to the closest hospital before bringing them to the Lady Ridgeway. That is the only solution to reduce the overwhelming amount of patients. For a problem of the Health Ministry we can’t increase the number of beds, doctors or medicine and hope to solve the issue. We must reduce the number of patients. We should try to reduce the spread of dengue.
Q: You have been saying the Health Ministry needs to be efficient. What have you been doing to ensure its efficiency?
It has been only three months since I took office at the Health Ministry. During that time I have done a lot of programs and to reduce the shortage in drugs. I have done more to help the shortage in drugs when compared to the past five years. Apart from that I have introduced an Employee Council System to address the issues of the Ministry also trying to work cordially with the Employee trade unions. Along with the increasing population the health problems are bound to increase due to the changes in climate, eating habits and technology. Even in America is seen an increasing trend of illnesses.
Q: What do you think of the preferential treatment being given to former LTTE eastern wing leader Karuna Amman when compared to General Sarath Fonseka?
In relation to the special treatment rendered to Karuna Amman it has been a long time since he had become a Minister. He joined the Government and left the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). We don know what he did when he was with the LTTE. So we cant say it was that (war crimes) or not. If he did something like that he will be charged and taken to courts. But since he chose the path of democratic politics it is universally accepted norm that he should be accepted in society.
Q: Who proposed and why was Karuna Amman made vice president of the SLFP?
That was a decision arrived at the central committee of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). It is confidential and close held secrets of the party. I can’t tell that who proposes and seconds the decisions arrived at within the central committee. It is a right of a democratic political party.
Q: What is your party’s view of Mangala joining the UNP?
Just because he joined the United National Party (UNP) yesterday or day before he was part of the UNP along time ago. Now it has been more than two or three years since he joined the UNP. We not only invite him (Mangala) but also Ranil Wicramasinghe to join us, and continue with the Government. Our invitation is open to all.