By Sam Panditha –
The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) has been eerily quiet the last two months. In the past, a week did not go past without us seeing the GMOA officers in their Red GMOA tie, telling us what is wrong with the country or the grievances affecting their own cadre (Government Medical Officers).
Last year, we have seen the biggest medical threat faced by humanity (COVID-19) and we expect the preachers from GMOA to salvage us with sound advice to the Government and to us the public. If the GMOA has suddenly given up US the public and let us decide our own COVID challenge, the GMOA should at least on behalf of their members (Government Medical Officers) who are on the frontline make a determined and action oriented stance on how to save the Country from the Pandemic and in turn their brethren (Government Doctors). Or is it GMOA only interested in safeguarding their monopolised income source and been so greedy, do not even care about their own health risk from COVID. The GMOA Government job is only a part time job. Main job is the private consultancy. We saw a significant drop in private hospital consultation appointments. If the situation got worse their entire lucrative consultancy income would have gone down. With such a monetary threat, why is the GMOA silent?
Let us look at some of the areas GMOA should have stepped in and the double standard they have practiced in the past.
Covid Vaccination Plans
The COVID vaccination was haphazard to say the least. Can GMOA tell us what was the initial vaccination plan, progress to date and plan for tomorrow (let alone the plan for the future)? Today if I ask where the vaccination is given in my area tomorrow, there is nowhere to get such information.
Initially it was advertised that vaccine will be given in Campbell Park. Hyde park etc. Thousands flocked in but utter mess and higher COVID infections due to not distancing. Even I was confused where to get the vaccine. Many irregular-patronage related vaccines were given. In my case I tried various places and accidentally got one from Kirulapona.
All that was needed was to have a daily plan, starting from say the over 80s, then over 70s. Simply publish the vaccination centre names, NIC first digit range for age (for over 70s NIC stating 41 to 50), also to avoid all rushing at 09.00, state the NIC ending 1-3 from 09.00-11.30; NIC ending 4-6 from 11.30 to 13.30 and the NIC ending 7-0 from 14.00 to 17,00. A simple logical plan.
This could be the result of too many cooks and inability to come with a single coherent plan. We have 3 Ministers covering Western Medicine (Prof Channa Jayasumana, Dr Sudarshani Fernandopulle, Mrs Pavithra Wanniarachichi), 2 Ministers Covering indigenous Medicine, a Special Presidential Covid Officer Mr Lalith Weeratunga, Army General and Shavendra Silva, 25 District Military officers to implement the medical plans and a Police spokesman that we see daily on TV, telling us what to do or not to do for COVID and how many arrested today. Further, the President appointed an eight-member special Presidential Task Force for National Deployment and Vaccination Plan for COVID-19 vaccines, headed by the principal advisor to the president Lalith Weeratunga.
With so many individuals involved with different interests and no clear hierarchy of authority, a bitter pill similar to “Dammika Peniya” was inevitable, in the making.
Where was the GMOA in all these?
Even the Vaccination certificate issued (half an A4 page) is very poorly designed. It has on the front page sections to fill on MOH division, Gramasevaka division, but nowhere for a seal of authority and a signature. The certificate I obtained, there was no seal and no signature.
The world is talking about a “Travel COVID vaccination certificate”. Sri Lanka was hailed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a model for eradication of Polio, Small pox and even Malaria and childhood deceases. WHO have standard small size YELLOW vaccine certificates (Yellow fever still needed) – and we still issue them in Sri Lanka. Why could we not model our certificate along the standard model? Just Google “COVID VACCINE certificate” and you can download many working certificates. Where is those senior and junior staff trained by the WHO in Geneva and Sri Lanka on this subject of vaccination??
I saw some staff entering some data on a computer before vaccination. Is this data widely available for learning about vaccination success and after effects? Also can that data be accessed at the Airport to see if a passenger has been vaccinated? Simple NIC number link can provide that
None of these were addressed. Why couldn’t the GMOA get involved? What use are their UK FRCS and FRCPs?
What Is The GMOA Recommended Vaccine?
There are at least 5 known vaccines (Astra Zeneca, Pfizer, Sino Vac, Sputnik and Johnson). Some are difficult to store -70C, some may have different efficacy rates, some different side effects. Sino Vac in Brazil has only been 50.4% effective.
What is our medical profession procedure and guidelines to test and approve any of the above vaccines for use in Sri Lanka?
What is the best vaccine to fit our delivery capability? What is the most cost effective vaccine for Sri Lanka?
GMOA eerily silent on above.
Historical Stand From GMOA On Current Medical Issues
When the Indian Government announced the Gift of the “Suva Seriya” Emergency ambulance scheme (Promoted by Harsha de Silva), GMOA went to town opposing it. I vividly remember the Key GMOA officers on TV holding a de-fibrillator, telling us “do you want to die from electrocution by accepting this Indian RAW intervention, or simply take the nearby 3 Wheeler and come to us”.
I lost total faith in GMOA after seeing this video interview. In other countries first line life saver is the well trained paramedic and the ambulance and not the three wheeler. These “consultants with FRCS, FRCP from UK, must have been totally blind, during their foreign training.
We are so thankful to Suwa Seriya for bringing this life saving intervention, and urge all Sri Lankan to down load the app so that the ambulance can easily locate you.
Even after the dastardly, selfish move to block Suwa Seriya, I urge the GMOA to encourage all to down load the app. At the end of the day, if Suva Seriya brings a live patient to the hospital instead of the dead patient in the 3-wheeler your kith and kin can earn more blood sucking consultancy income.
Public Health Concerns
On 12 February 2019, GMOA Secretary Dr. Haritha Aluthge wrote to the then President H.E. Sirisena “requesting him to conduct a full and proper investigation into the quality and standard of imported milk powder”. You went to town on this and even made an official GMOA Video on Milk powder now available on YouTube. As a milk consumer, I am asking Dr Aluthge is the milk powder today safe to consume?. If not why don’t you take the matter up again?
You were fighting then against sub-standard foods. The last few months we have heard about arsenic in canned fish.
Few days ago 28th March 21 we see a news item on contaminated coconut Oil.
Just like MILK, substandard canned fish and coconut oil pose a severe health risk on the population. We have seen the GMOA going to town against powdered sub-standard milk- now the time to go to town on fish and coconut oil.
We are now facing the greatest medical supplies procurement challenge in the history of medical procurement in Sri Lanka. Ventilators, PCR test kits, Antigen test kits- we are procuring in the millions. I am scared to even think about the cost incurred and the ultimate burden on the economy and the tax payer.
Under the previous regime, GMOA put up serious allegation of improper and sub-standard procurement of medicines and medical supplies by the then Minister. (I am not going to take a side on this but, believe the GMOA did it for exposing any such malpractices).
We are entering a totally new and untested procurement arena as COVID medicine is totally new. We would like to know what role the GMOA played in recommending the best medicine procurement option for us, as well as overseeing the procurement process so that we get the best at a reasonable price.
Medical Personnel Training
GMOA was most vocal in attacking the private medical college, in the interest of assuring the best qualified medical personnel for us in the future.
COVID Vaccination centres- some only had nurses- occasional Doctor in some. In my case only a few nurses around. No questions asked about my possible post-vaccination risk (allergies, heart conditions etc.). We were herded into the vaccination with no questions asked. After the vaccination, no guidance on post- vaccination pain, aspirin etc. A large poster could have been placed in the vaccination centre queue–warning on risks (allergy, heart condition etc.) and a similar large poster after the vaccination on possible side effects, taking aspirin etc.
Were there a country wide medical personnel/ nurses training program initiated by the GMOA to ensure MOH staff involved in the vaccination are well trained?
Government Policy On Encouraging Local Drug Production
The Government has started promoting local medical drug manufacture, allocating special zones with infrastructure for establishing drug factories. GMOA being the first line contact with rural patients and hospital pharmacies would have the best knowledge to guide the new policy encouraging local production. It is unlikely such facilities would be able to capture foreign markets and hence all factories would produce for the local market. Which drug to manufacture and what local production protective tax incentive to be given are critical issues. Naturally, manufacturers would demand protection from imports, and a local monopoly drug manufacture can result, eventually ripping off the patients with protected pricing and unreasonable profits given to a few. We already see this happening in the Ceramics and electric cable sphere, where imports are hugely taxed and a few local producers earn a huge and a unreasonable profit.
Why cannot the GMOA provide guidance on what medicines are recommended for local purchase and what level of local protection is needed.
I hope the GMOA would come out of quarantine and respond to the issuers raised here.