- In developed countries ministers are sacked for travelling across border lines
- Forced cremations ended in UNHRC repercussions; hatti, mutti and paniya ended with international humiliation
- Authorities playing with the lives of the people in the absence of informed consent
- AstraZeneca is the only company that has not committed to gaining profits
Sri Lankans living in UK have made an urgent appeal to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to release the supply of 600,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines due to arrive in Sri Lanka and are lobbying their constituent MP’s heavily to prioritise Sri Lanka’s vaccine crisis. The appeal is spearheaded by
Dr. Tush Wickramanayaka, a National Health Service General Practitioner, family physician licensed in both UK and Sri Lanka, Human Rights activist and daughter of former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka. “Leadership is the splendorous capacity to translate vision into reality on ground zero; not something confined to a glossy document called ‘Vistas of Prosperity’,” she said in an interview
with the .
Q You have pioneered a campaign making an appeal to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging him to release the rest of AstraZeneca vaccines. Tell us about this campaign and its objectives.
The Sri Lankans in UK, whom I like to call as ‘Global Humanitarians’ unite in solidarity beyond race or creed to appeal to the British Prime Minister. The appeal highlights that just over one million people out of a population of 22 million have received the first dose of the vaccine; the majority received Covishield/AstraZeneca and about 600,000 are stranded without the second dose with several thousand healthcare workers at risk. The tragic death toll and illness amongst the general public is mounting by the hour. With a total of about 600 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds and grossly inadequate ICU facilities in national hospitals, Sri Lanka faces an appalling rate of attrition (the process of reducing something’s strength of effectiveness through sustained attack or pressure) that her fragile Health Service can ill-afford. This appeal is endorsed by many politicians and professionals of Sri Lankan origin living in UK. The following organisations in UK have also supported the appeal: Association of Professional of Sri Lanka, Meththa Foundation, Medical Institute of Tamils, Friends of Manipay Hospital, Association of Sri Lankan Lawyers in UK, HelaSarana, Medical Aid to Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan Medical and Dental Association in UK, Council of Sri Lankan Muslim Organisations UK, Kandy Girls High School Old Girls Association UK, Peradeniya Medical School Alumni Association UK, Mahamaya Old Girls’ Association, Visakha Vidyalaya PPA, Ananda College OBA, Kingswood College OBA, Ananda College Old Boys’ Association , Musaeus College Past Pupils’ Association and World Forum of Sri Lankan Muslims.
Each member of the organisations supporting the appeal has lobbied their individual constituent Members of Parliament, encouraging them to write to and/or question the Prime Minister and other key members of the Cabinet in support of prioritising Sri Lanka. A change.org petition was also commenced targeting 100,000 signatures that will compel the British parliament to resolve the vaccine inequity, so that Sri Lankans and the citizens of the developing world would not have to perpetuate their desperate efforts to secure vaccines every couple of months. The petition has generated an inspiring 10,000 signatures within 24 hours. Please sign and share. http://chng.it/PtK4Lvr6vs
Q Sri Lanka managed the COVID-19 outbreak during its first wave, but things went out of hand thereafter. Where did Sri Lanka go wrong?
It is very easy to become complacent when something goes right. There was a general attitude of “we did it best”, an aura of arrogance that set in. Whilst all the other countries were grappling with shocking state of affairs, they continued to follow the gold standard guidance of World Health Organisation (WHO). These countries had a transparent COVID management protocol with clear lines of responsibility and accountability. The leaders of these countries understood the fear and anxiety of their people and managed the crisis with compassion, empathy and science, which helped with their recovery – all of these characteristics were severely lacking amongst the authorities in Sri Lanka. Emphasis was on a militarised system of control than on an expert led health promotion system.
Q There were hardly any virologists, microbiologists or experienced immunology/epidemiology experts at the frontlines. Do you think this contributed to the overall failure in responding to the pandemic?
Absolutely! The monumental mistake was appointing a Geologist to the COVID Task Force who promulgated mythological facts about the virus entering underground water system. This was utilised as a tool to encourage ethnic conflict by disallowing burials in Sri Lanka contrary to WHO guidance. In fact, all twelve Fundamental Rights petitions against forced cremation were disallowed on the basis of the fabricated evidence of the Geologist. I do not wish to name her and give undue publicity again. Such heartbreaking human rights violations resulted in UNHRC resolution taking a firm stance on Sri Lanka.
Soon after that, a separate State Minister for COVID-19 control was appointed, but she didn’t seem to be in charge of operations. The committee of true experts she appointed was rejected the very next day and there was chaos as to who was doing what. Until now, the country is perpetually moving in reverse gear with every decision they make. Other than the Army Commander still leading the COVID Task Force, does the public know who the other members are?
Q Sri Lanka’s health communication strategies were rather poor where authorities had to go to the extent of arresting and fining those violating quarantine laws. Recently they started to do a near-abduction attempt to remove people who aren’t adhering to safety guidelines. Why is it important to have stronger health communication strategies during a pandemic?
I find it hilarious that the Government is resorting to such extreme measures to uphold law and order within the general public when their representatives are blatantly disobeying the same laws. In developed countries Ministers are sacked for travelling to see their parents across the border lines, or when public officials have entertained more than five people at parties. ‘One Country One Law’ is not a rhetorical political slogan. Many leaders make mistakes, but it is imperative that you maintain humility and prevent catastrophes. The UK Prime Minister was initially dismissive of COVID suggesting that it was nothing more than a simple cold. However, after he recovered from severe illness he was quick to apologize and resolve the issue of PPE shortages amongst health care workers. The UK became the first country in the world to commence vaccination.
Ideally, there should be a central unified approach with daily and weekly updates of the situation headed by the Subject Minister, with honest and transparent dissemination of information. The public should be reassured by experts of the COVID Task Force and allowed in depth questioning without the proverbial denial of “it has not reached the community yet”. All other Government officials must refrain from seeking limelight by giving public statements outside of their expertise that confuse people. Sri Lanka has a tremendous primary health care system and a world acclaimed immunization programme. There is absolutely no reason why the system should fail unless there is bureaucratic mismanagement.
Q Today the healthcare system has been heavily burdened, there is no adequate PCR testing process and there are allegations that the Government is trying to keep away from disclosing information. How does this reflect negatively on the health communication approach?
I was a victim of the PCR scam in October 2020. After my revelations the Government gave certain reassurances, but we know the entire COVID management is less than desirable. In fact, I even disclosed how the death certificates were being falsified in November 2020. The primary cause of death was recorded as the underlying health condition rather than COVID-19 infection. It is the primary cause of death that is recorded in the Central Registry of Deaths and this is what is statistically significant. Therefore, many deaths may not be categorised as COVID related deaths. This may provide a dangerous state of false sense of security allowing the super spread of the disease.
Q Sri Lanka didn’t prioritise on the procurement of vaccines, but was keener on promoting paniyas (Ayurvedic syrups). What are your observations?
In a way, I am not surprised as to how misguided the members of the Sri Lankan Government are. Most of them are adorned with rings, chains, threads, bracelets and other items signifying religious or mythical belief. Even the Police and other law enforcement officers are adorned with similar items, which are contrary to their uniform. When professional judgment is clouded by personal beliefs there is a clear and present danger of losing objectivity, just as it happened with COVID management. Ultimately, forced cremation scenario ended with UNHRC repercussions and hatti, mutti and paniya ended with international humiliation.
We have a wealth of experienced public officers whose skills are under utilised. It is astounding that not a single member of the Government has the courage to step out of the circus ring and walk a straight path setting an example for the public to follow. Leadership is the splendorous capacity to translate vision into reality on ground zero; not something confined to a glossy document called ‘Vistas of Prosperity’.
Q Once the vaccines did arrive the scientific process to vaccinate people wasn’t followed. At one point anybody was given the go-ahead to get themselves vaccinated, even those below 30. How did this add to the overall scarcity of vaccines?
There is a distinct Vaccine roll out process recommended by WHO. Most countries follow this process starting with the frontline health care workers, above 60 age group, those with comorbidities at greater risk, etc. Actually it’s an idiot’s guide to vaccination. Again, the culprits were those in power and authority who jumped the queues, hoarded the vaccines, made special lists for their families, commercialised it and were reportedly caught in action abusing the system, but escaped scot-free. What was ironic was that those critical of the Government such as the GMOA jumped on the same band wagon leaving the people unguarded and unsafe. Self-control is an internal mechanism that should be developed with maturity, sincerity and above all ethical allegiance to the Hippocratic Oath, ‘first do no harm’.
Q Subsequently local politicians issued chits at vaccination centres and certain factions highlighted why their family members should be vaccinated first. The private sector also tried to earn a few bucks by selling vaccines. Your comments?
Deplorable! I am extremely concerned about enforcing citizens to accept only one dose of Sputnik V, which is produced and recommended as a two dose vaccine for optimum effectiveness. The one dose vaccine Sputnik Light, which is effective short term, is NOT used in Sri Lanka. In the absence of informed consent the authorities are playing with the lives of our people.
My heart breaks and my soul hurts when I see injustice. Day in, day out, we are living in a country where we wake up to injustice, muddle through with anger and frustration and nod off with sheer mental exhaustion. We are tired of this nonsense. Emotions are raw and there is palpable distress. They say that “an egg must break for a new life to emerge”. I would say we’re near breaking point.
Q It was revealed that Sri Lanka is purchasing Sinopharm at USD 15 while Bangladesh purchased it at USD 10. How do you see this?
World Health Organisation Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus has repeatedly warned about the scandalous inequity of vaccines and stressed that more than 75% of all vaccines had been administered in just ten countries. “The world remains in a very dangerous situation” Tedros told the opening of the annual assembly of health ministers from the 194 member states on May 24, 2021. He re-iterated that a small group of countries that makes and buys the majority of the world’s vaccine control the fate of the rest of the world. The WHO confirms that unless 80% of the world’s population is fully vaccinated we continue to be at risk globally in the long-term.
Astra Zeneca is the only company that has committed to not profiting from the COVID-19 vaccine during the pandemic. It is imperative that countries abandon the patent war on vaccines providing more affordable supplies globally. To tackle global vaccine-inequality, Britain should use its Chairmanship of the G7 Conference to coordinate an international approach for COVID19 vaccine distribution, the removal of all barriers including patents and ensure that more countries around the world may manufacture their own vaccines.
China, a leading producer of vaccines, can set the bar to end the price war on vaccines ensuring equality, justice and hope for millions.
Q Your father is a former Prime Minister who represented SLFP and your brother is a cabinet minister also representing SLFP which is part of this Government. Do you think the present regime has failed to deliver on its promises ?
I cannot speak on behalf of my father or my brother. I am speaking as an independent citizen of this country. All Members of Parliament, Local Government, Municipal etc are elected to represent the people of Sri Lanka. Although they are elected by their constituents, politics must be confined to the campaign trail BEFORE getting elected. AFTER they take up their seats, their job is to represent all of the people - not just those who voted them in. Parliament is NOT a place to do politics; neither is it a wrestling pit or kindergarden to keep repeating the same old “who did what and blame game”. Parliament is a place to work cohesively for the benefit of the people of all religions, ethnicities and political allegiances. Unless our representatives ensure equality, justice and hope for 22 million citizens, they have all failed!
Definitely there is a stark deterioration of moral values and ethical conduct married with lack knowledge and expertise comparing the caliber of politicians during the time of my father vs my brother; as a sitting MP and as a sitting member of the current regime my brother is responsible and accountable to the mess we are currently in.