The talk of the town these days is all about an Ayurvedic ‘paniya’ or syrup, supposedly prepared by using some secret ingredients in addition to nutmegs and bees honey, being sought by desperate Sri Lankans, who appear to have lost faith in the government’s ability to control or curb the rapidly spreading viral infection.
We saw last week in the print and electronic media, pictures of hundreds of men and women rushing to the village of Hettimulla in Kegalle and gathering outside the high-walled residence of Kapurala-turned Ayurveda practitioner Dhammika Bandara to grab a bottle of the ‘paniya’ being touted by him as a cure for the deadly COVID-19 virus, and according to some media reports was being distributed free-of-charge.
It was not too long ago that we saw no less a person than Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi accompanied by two ministers throwing pots of water into the Kalu Ganga, while a few days ago we saw the health minister, the Speaker and some government MPs blithely consuming spoonfuls of the questionable or dubious syrup.
Meanwhile, State Minister of Indigenous Medicine Sisira Jayakody, who chipped in to support the ‘paniya’ manufactured by Mr. Bandara, claimed a team of western medical doctors had carried out clinical trials at the Wathupitiwala Hospital’s COVID-19 treatment centre and that PCR tests had confirmed that the patients who consumed the syrup for three days were virus-free. “The country can only win if indigenous medicine combined with western medicine and scientific methods of treatment are deployed in the effort to eradicate the virus,” he said.
This was soon contradicted by the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) saying no such tests had been conducted at this hospital. “What is most important at this juncture is to follow the basic health rules and guidelines under the Quarantine Act. COVID-19 will be the ultimate winner if precautions such as the washing of hands, wearing of masks, physical distancing and the avoidance of gathering in large numbers is ignored in instances such as what we saw last week,” GMOA Editor Dr. Haritha Aluthge said.
Be that as it may, the newly-appointed State Minister of Primary Health Care, Epidemiology and Coronavirus Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle also warned against the distribution of medicinal drugs, which have neither been scientifically tested nor approved by the relevant authorities. “The existing lists of registered drugs, which are used, have been scientifically proven, and we are aware of their side effects and who can or cannot be administered the treatment. Our priority is the safety of the general public,” she said.
Superstitious and mythological practices, in the forefront of which was no less a person than the Health Minister herself, rather than slowing down the onslaught of the viral infection, have seen a steep increase in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19. If those whom people look up to for sober and sensible advice indulge in misinformation, can a desperate people be blamed for indulging in such irrational practices with scant regard for health guidelines?
That is exactly what we saw the other day. Those who gathered outside Mr. Bandara’s residence though seen wearing face masks were blatantly violating the other health guidelines such as physical distancing and gathering in large numbers at public places; all for the sake of laying their hands on a syrup whose efficacy is doubtful if not an unknown quantity.
It reminds us of the idiom of a drowning person clutching at straws to save his or her life, and whether it is the government that needs to be blamed for such a situation or a demoralized people looking for a way out of this crisis without that many options left, is anybody’s guess.
With the detection of an average 500 virus-infected patients and three deaths a day even from areas far apart from each other such as in Sammanthurai, Akkaraipattu, Kandy, Galle and Kurunegala; Sri Lankans need to be assured, that the government, no matter what, is still in control of the situation. Incidentally where prisons are concerned, the story is grim if not pathetic, with inmates—those either convicted or in remand custody held in close proximity to each other with the authorities turning a blind eye to social distancing and personal hygiene—the number infected has increased to 3,087.
People need tangible answers not palliatives. Misdirection or misinformation from the powers that be is of little or no help when soliciting the people’s cooperation and where the ‘questionable syrup’ is concerned it is sensible to look before you leap.