By Asoka N.I. Ekanayaka –
The brilliant “Position Paper On The Debate About Compulsory Cremation Of Victims Of COVID-19” By The College Of Community Physicians Of Sri Lanka ( CCPSL) released this week is surely the final authoritative word in the vexed debate about forced cremation of the Covid dead. The position paper is can be read here.
If the government had any commitment to reason, humanity , evidence based scientific truth and natural justice along with an iota of intelligence, it would bow to the conclusions by the highly qualified Epidemiologists and Board Certified Specialists in Public Health who comprise the CCPSL, and forthwith abandon its stubborn xenophobic obsession with forcible cremation in defiance of the scientific evidence.
The Covid 19 Pandemic is what you call a classic ’public health emergency’. Consequently the medical specialists who ought to be in the frontline in the battle against this terrible plague are specialists in Epidemiology and Public Health working in close collaboration with the best experts in Virology. I am aware that the latter includes a world famous Sri Lankan Virologist and Fellow of the Royal Society. But I suppose we are an example of a society where as the saying goes “ A prophet is not without honour save in his own country” !
As for the speciality of Public Health ( also known as Community Medicine), it is a little known fact that the Postgraduate Institute of Medicine (PGIM) the pre-eminent institution that has been training medical specialists in Sri Lanka for the past 40 years, has produced 209 highly qualified Board Certified Specialists in Public Health since the year 2000. However it would seem that the government has failed to exploit this critical human resource and give outstanding Public Health Specialists a free hand to exercise strong leadership in an evidence based offensive against Covid 19, taking centre stage in planning strategy without fear or favour and with complete political independence.
On the contrary amidst much obscurity about the composition of such bodies, it would seem that the Task Force that appears to be calling the shots and dictating terms is dominated by men in uniform (who though they may have an important executive role are out of their depth in formulating health strategy), garrulous GMOA doctors who are only vocal trade union activists, some other trusted professionals who have found political favour and senior Health Ministry officials. No doubt the latter may include some Board Certified Public Health specialists. But how much clout they may have is unclear in a feudal minded society where there is a culture of cringing submission to authority, and where it is expected that servile officials overawed by a fearful executive wielding absolute power at the head of the table might tell the government what it likes to hear !
Sadly, Sri Lanka is not a meritocracy and will always remain stuck in the mud until it becomes one. It is a society where often mediocrity is preferred to excellence, where habitually kissing goes by favour, where sycophancy being valued over independence stooging is endemic. It is where either due to the wrong political affiliation, a suspicion of independent men, the selfish vanity of those who resent better men outshining them, or the plain cussedness of the Sinhalese – the best people are often kept out, many chased out to greener pastures.
Notwithstanding this gloomy picture it is hoped that even at this late stage the government will have the good sense to harness this magnificent human resource of highly trained Public Health Specialists in the war on Covid, by for a start heeding the recommendations of this outstanding evidence based “Position Paper” by the College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka (CCPSL)
The contents are self explanatory and need no further elaboration here other than to reiterate the conclusion which states “There are no solid evidence indicating that burial of dead bodies would increase the spread of the disease . . . . .”