Anjalika Silva in 3 April 2020, ….http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2020/04/02/praise-for-sri-lanka-from-the-world-health-organization-for-their-government-response-to-covid19-pandemic-how-they-succeeded/
After surviving a devastating tsunami, brutal terrorism for 30 years losing 30,000 of their security forces and an unaccounted loss of civilians to suicide bombings, the people enjoyed hard won peace in 2009, until a bombing in April 2019 killed 350 people at churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday.
This resilient nation stood the test and knew how to save its people regardless of politics, popularity or complacency.
The Director General of the WHO paid a great compliment to Sri Lanka as the Best Health Service Among the World’s Best”. He has since, made a phone call to the President of Sri Lanka to commend this country for the measures taken and visible result.
How this came about is explored here. Sri Lanka had three deaths up to April 1, 2020. At the time of this article, the total infections were under 150 for a population of 22 million in the country.
It is interesting to delve behind the scenes that supported this effort. The WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh declared that the Health Ministry of Sri Lanka had also accomplished drug price reduction.
Being the size of West Virginia, with 22 million people of multireligious and multiethnic diversity, speaking three languages, despite international misinformation of ethnic and religious intolerance, they came together as one nation. To put human life first meant standing up to opposition for necessary actions. Noncompliance was remedied swiftly for the wellbeing of people that included natives and tourists from 14 different countries. The bottom line was singular goals across the country for effective management.
Sri Lanka reported the first case of Corona on January 27, 2020 and a second case on March 11, 2020. The first death was on March 28, next on March 30 and the third on April 1, 2020. Not everyone heeded warnings about the magnitude of danger.
With experience, skills and expertise of the security forces and unwavering leadership of a newly elected President, with moral seriousness, all resources came to the forefront to get working.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the US based (NIAID) continues to explain the characteristics of viruses educating nonscientific audiences about the importance of breaking the victory chain of the virus. Microbes do not respect geographic or political boundaries. They have their own timeline and life cycle.
Sri Lanka acted in January as reported by travelers who were checked with thermal screening at airports. Preparation for quarantine was already in place. These immediate steps kept the numbers down as tourism was a vital part of the economy. In meeting needs for quarantine, some of the star class luxury hotels were converted for this purpose in the exotic beach areas.
Centralized and decisive but responsive leadership with the courage to make unpopular decisions, set right policies, planning and implementing expert input, uniformly applied regardless of size or position of power on the globe, saved lives. Added to this asset was a free healthcare system network of state hospitals nationwide, already in place.
Sri Lanka had to deal with 33 of Sri Lankan students studying in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak. Sri Lankans in large numbers are employed in Italy and South Korea as migrant workers. Chinese collaborative projects with Sri Lanka had a working population that moved between the two countries. These hot spots needed swift action.
The network immediately took stringent measures, organized facilities in place to assist all those who were returning citizens before it became necessary to stop all inbound travel. There were tourists who were protected under the same facilities and the government extended visas of all tourists with closing travel facilities.
The 33 students returned to the island on February 1, on a special Mercy Flight of the Sri Lankan Airlines, at the request of the President Gotabhaya Rajapakse. A brave crew trained and equipped, flew this mission. The returning students were quarantined at a major Army Base that was ready on arrival for a 14-day quarantine. They were released on the 14th of February and were met by the Commander of the Army Lt. General Shavendra Silva who headed all operations with the cooperation of the other security forces. They headed home with no infections.
In the early stages, the repatriated migrant workers from Italy and South Korea, were placed in quarantine facilities close to their hometowns but under one body the National Health Services of the country headed by the Director General of Health Services Dr. Anil Jasinghe. There were 46 quarantine facilities made ready prior to their arrival. Monitoring staggered returnees continued with quarantine in their homes, to ensure compliance. They were transported by Government and military to prevent contact between family members, and all vehicles and contaminants were duly sanitized. The military provided beds and bedding for the quarantine units.
Sri Lanka has a premier hospital for Infectious Diseases (IDH) located within reach of the capital. In the case of Covid19, due to unprecedented numbers, it was connected to satellite quarantine facilities. These hospitals under the Ministry of Health followed guidelines applicable to the entire nation by one authority was headed by the Minister of Health Mrs. Pavithra Wanniarachchi.
Some of those who were exposed were foreign tourists from 14 countries. After duly releasing them at the end of quarantine, the tourists applauded the attention and efficiency they received in video and written submissions to the media.
The state hospitals are staffed by medical personnel trained under a national system of education with roots in the British system as the country was a colony until independence in 1948. Medical graduates are employed in private or government hospitals. The highly competitive Medical Schools are free. Nursing is also standardized within the country. These professions are not isolated from international standards and training opportunities.
In Pharmaceutical, consumer goods, food, power, water supply and in every other industry, state owned corporations compete with the privately owned corporate counterparts to keep costs down to protect consumers from artificial scarcities and price gauging. The poor were provided food at no cost. Even the dogs abandoned by those who were affected were fed on the street by the Police and citizen volunteers.
The country will continue to call for further improvement, but Corona taught people to appreciate that they had the infrastructure and leadership in place to focus on getting through the Pandemic.
A curfew was imposed early to prevent spreading of the virus. Schools closed indefinitely. Security forces, government agencies and private businesses joined forces to provide needs of the people to their door. People had the ability to stay in place in their homes with a lifeline for help.
The garment export industry stepped in to retool and provide supplies for medical personnel and the general public. The need for alcohol-based sanitizers also came from private industry and the state-owned Sugar Corporation that stepped up.
The most valuable resource immediately mobilized was the well trained, disciplined security forces of the Army, Navy and Airforce supported by the Police. Using security personnel is not a popular decision for any leader. President of Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Rajapakse, elected in November 2019, a former US Citizen who renounced his US nationality to take on the role, a former military officer, has won praise of his people for difficult but necessary actions taken with support from all sectors. He explained to the nation the circumstances to meet more important challenges. The nation understood and approved his handling of the crisis and cooperated.
The Covid-19 is an organism with a life cycle that is predetermined, and completed with aggression moving on to reinfect exponentially if not managed. The trilingual media played a role in educating the people.
The President of Sri Lanka acted with moral seriousness, even with an upcoming general election later this year. He was supported by the Army Commander Shavendra Silva who led the overall operation. The citizen needs were taken care of with the leadership of the Police Media Commissioner Ajith Rohana. They were in the field making sure all self-quarantined were following rules and kept in touch with them. The Police monitored the state-run quarantine needs and enforced the curfew. Violators of the social distancing and the curfew were subject to arrest and vehicles that traversed the streets without curfew permits had the vehicle taken away.
The Navy handled shipments of food supplies from ports. They also engaged in sanitizing the streets and public places to prevent infection. The engineering unit of the Airforce designed and built multiple isolation units with washrooms and did so in 10 days proving the operation can be extrapolated on a larger scale.
A private company built a robot to accurately deliver food and medicines to the quarantined patients preventing infection of medical staff. They were also able to communicate with the doctors via the robots. These are now expedited.
Sri Lanka lost its first Corona victim on March 27, two more by April 1. Within 2 months and 5 days, there were under 150 positive cases.
A visitor to Sri Lanka from Ireland reports that he arrived in Sri Lanka January 24th and was immediately scanned with a thermal scanner. The word was out about Covid19. A nationwide curfew was in place with a small window of time open for people to collect necessities. It didn’t take long to prevent hoarding of necessities and action was taken to prevent price gauging according to this visitor from Ireland. He had praise for the authorities.
Closing schools and non-essential services with mandatory curfew to keep people from large gatherings and enforcing social distancing helped to keep infection down. At the time of writing this article on April 1, 2020, news reports indicated and 10 were declared cured and released.
Industries with the ability to change their production lines and retool supported the government with making Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including gowns and masks for medical personnel and other needs as required. Religious organizations are donating to keep people and the front-line workers supported. The Government is helping with financial and other relief for those who have lost earnings. Wheels are turning in all parts of the country including the Northern region, with no language or racial barriers.
The disposal of the remains of Corona victims is also supervised by the authorities. Due to the high risk involved, they are cremated and only one member of a family is permitted to be present with proper attire. Although some religious groups in Sri Lanka do not cremate, in the circumstances, for the protection of all people, it is followed for valid reasons.
Caskets and vehicles used for transport are sanitized inside and out. The Police escorts the remains and provides instructions to the fully attired crematorium staff. They place the casket in the chamber, remove all the protective outer wear to be burned in the chamber with the casket. The handlers are then transported in a sanitized vehicle and instructed to shower fully clothed under hot running water before disposing of clothing. These stringent procedures ensure that spread is prevented.
After the 30-year war ended, the same military that served the civilians in all parts of the country including the North are serving people of one nation for one purpose.
This is the same military to which child soldiers surrendered across enemy lines. They were rehabilitated and returned to families, saved from being child soldiers with the terrorists.
It is the same security forces that were hauled before the Human Rights Tribunal even as recently as March 2019, for violations not proven even 10 years after the end of the war. These men and women in uniform fought terrorists who as non-state players were never held accountable for war crimes, murder and a host of violations. Those murdered were hundreds of policemen, military, mainstream Tamil politicians, the Prime Minister of India, a President of Sri Lanka, a much-loved Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka from the Tamil community and other prominent scholars and intellectuals of all ethnic groups. All war conventions of human rights were violated by terrorists not held accountable, but the military faced war crimes.
The current Army Commander Shavendra Silva who provided leadership for all the Humanitarian Preservation activities in the Corona pandemic 2020 is banned from visiting the US and labelled as a war criminal. So are many other senior military officers who have served humanity during, before and after the war ended to protect civilians. Sri Lanka’s military is giving their best keeping deaths down to 3 when the US reports today, April 1, as the deadliest with close to 1000 Corona deaths in one day climbing further.
Many exceptional people in Sri Lanka remain behind a shadow of a cloud that has misrepresented them to the US and other western countries. When a crisis occurs, like this Pandemic, there is nothing short of the best humanitarian service provided to others by the people who are wrongly accused.
The recognition and praise of the WHO is duly deserved by all concerned for their exceptional Humanitarian Service.
NB: the appearance of this article in Thuppahi was delayed by a computer mishap.