16 June, 2021

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Who Has The Right To Priority In Covid Protection?

By Thangamuthu Jayasingam

Prof. Thangamuthu Jayasingam

It is shocking but true. 70% of the 801 (around 560) persons who had died of COVID until 10th May 2021, as per the Statistics by the Epidemiology Unit of Ministry of Health dated 10th May 2021 were above the age of 60. Most of them would have been people who had led careful lives to get to that point, only to be struck down by a virus that caught their government unprepared.

How many had been vaccinated beyond the age of 60? This is a query as all those had not been from Colombo, where the vaccination at one point was given to those beyond 60 years of age, were not provided with the vaccine. It had not been continued even in Colombo, but even worse, had not been applied to the rest of the country. The death of these people may be seen as ‘collateral damage’ of Covid which is inevitable. If the same justification was applied to the parliament and the office of the President the continued existence of many of them may have become a question mark today.

There are about 18% of population above 60 years of age and death of 70% of that category is out of proportion. The need for vaccinating the over 60 years age category as done in other parts of the world was  highlighted in the media from February 2021 onwards when the possibilities of vaccination was becoming a reality and every newspaper and news highlighted its importance to those over 60.

Dr H T Wickramasinghe, The President of the Vaccine and Infectious disease forum of Sri Lanka submits scientifically, professionally and medically a case for prioritizing the case for elderly

The Minister of Health, Hon. Pavithra Wanniarachchi emphasized the vital role COVAX Facility vaccines play in the Government’s commitment to vaccinate eligible Sri Lankans, starting with vulnerable groups like those over 60 years old and people residing in high case reporting areas. 

“The vaccination of senior citizens from elderly homes within the Colombo Municipality and their caregivers of all ages will commence from today onwards.” The 264,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca Covishield doses received through the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) COVAX Facility are to be utilised in vaccinating citizens above the age of 60. Dr. Samaraweera also said that persons above 60 from the Western Province living in grama niladhari (GN) divisions that are already rolling out the vaccine will be vaccinated from tomorrow (13) onwards. March 11, 2021 – Sunday Morning

Health policy regarding the vaccination of those over 60 stood along these lines as indicated by the State Minister for Health for a few weeks but was restricted to Colombo. However, this policy was thereafter not followed for unknown reasons. When many, including the author, applied on the web for priority Covid vaccination no action was taken, unfortunately.

It would be sad to find out, which would be inevitably true, that many who died beyond the ages of 60 years, may have been alive today, if not for the negligence of the state in terms of violating/neglecting the accepted policy in the world and prescribed policy in the country. There was a story in the media about three octogenarians, husband, wife and husband’s sister, all aged over 80 who died of Covid in their home where they had lived careful lives that had brought them to old age. 

Further this also brings to effect the ‘right to life’ concept. Advice from WHO and other countries and from our country too is to vaccinate the elders beyond 60. The failure to implement such vaccination on the ground, causing deaths of persons would be proof of the failure to ensure the rights of persons to live and safeguard their lives on an equal footing with others. It is very likely that those responsible for dereliction of duty may/could/should be charged for medical negligence leading to death of persons.

Everyone accepts the use of the vaccine to the front line workers as they were the most likely to be infected, and no one questions that. But when the probability for Corona infection was very high for  those beyond 60 years of age ( category of vulnerability) established globally only considering those in Colombo as priority (on the justification of it being in the category of higher infection area) for vaccination appears as a bias in the system. Was it because Colombo is the hub of Sri Lanka where the influential people reside and they need to be protected at the cost of others?  They are wealthy enough to ride away to distance places for safety as stated in the news. The government leadership made an error in not diversifying the vaccination program for the elderly beyond the borders of Colombo, considering their vulnerability.

It is difficult to manage emergencies in any country specially when new political regimes have taken over with different values and financial constraints that are checking their limitations.  However policies cannot ignore norms to uphold the right of every citizen especially their right to life.

Collateral damages

I salute every person who is in the front line whether on duty or off duty who had subjected themselves to a greater risk than an ordinary person in relation to the COVID RISK whose courage and  value need to be appreciated. I for one, not even a minute, consider anyone more important than one of them to live beyond the time of Covid as they had for the sake of others put their life at risk and this needs to be recognized.

The law does not differ when it is applied to those for trying to commit suicide whether by an ordinary person or a VIP or differ for a murder committed  by an ordinary person or a  VIP. Law is One.  Priority may justifiable be given to certain sectors during the COIVID, ONLY because, they are working for the people at large, at their own risk.

Once these categories are set aside, then we need to find out how the citizens are treated equally beyond the district borders. While I appreciate working on a priority basis with the districts that have been more severely affected we can only ignore  the vulnerable groups in other districts at the peril of all. In the case of Covid, the protection of the few requires the protection of the many. If this maxim is not heeded the impact would be what we see now, that the vulnerable groups suffer throughout the country. The figure of 70% of death being in one category, speaks for our ignorance or arrogance and for us not to have treated that as a special category of vulnerability is equivalent to a crime.

Questionable practices

The indications of the Corona infection being on the rise with the increasing death toll is a dire one. The predictions of American institute predict the death toll of Sri Lanka to be around 20,000 by September from 800 at present, which will see an increased spike in the next few months, if predictions are correct. Unfortunately these predictions had been very accurate with regard to the death toll in the US and we have no reason to doubt it being the same with Sri Lanka as well.

In my opinion we could have spent more time and money getting inoculated against the virus much earlier as suggested, than to hold parliamentary election, pass the 20th amendment, bring tourists from infected countries and serve them in Bubble, which may have given us a better opportunity to curb the pandemic. We have had the rise from September 2020 which we did not see or act upon. We were trying to compare India and USA all the time literally than comparing the proportions in terms of population ratios while Israel had a better plan and as of today they are a success story and we are not.

The Way ahead

The only way forward for us is to collectively spend all our energy and effort to beat the pandemic rather than try and stabilize economy at the same time which may never happen. Please do not forget we had a 17 billion rupee scam in the middle of this and almost all items had gone up in price. We will have to focus on inoculating a larger population as early as possible through state and also non state institutions to the extent possible. This seems the only way to minimize the numbers of death and acute infection. Failure to this will always be seen as a failure of state governance, and the politicians with their petty tussles in and out of the parliament will be condemned by the people today and by history for ignoring the larger issues. Sadly they seem to have forgotten the woods for the trees.

History is written after the events and the Covid history of Sri Lanka will not be written positively but as failure of the policies to effectively mitigate the crisis, unless we take a great stride now and leap to safety.

*The author is Senior professor of Botany (Rtd) and Former Vice Chancellor, Eastern University

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Latest comments

  • 4
    0

    Professor Harendra De Silva,
    Thank you very much for that enlightening writing (both articles – including that of Carlsberg), though everyone after gaining power (economically and/or politically) does resort to it, frequently, due to inadvertency and not by design. They do not realise the bad effects or what they are missing, doing so, of insulating oneself from their surroundings. The article is an eye opener and commended to be seen by all in position of power. Hope there is a turn around.

    • 13
      1

      A rat has left the sinking ship. Basil Rajapakse left for the US for “medical treatment”.

      • 1
        1

        Sarath P, Put rat poison so that rats cant get on board again.

  • 5
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    This article takes me almost 45 years ago, in my working life. The MD was an unassuming erudite gentlemen of great standing in his profession, eldest male sibling of then family owned business, was held in high esteem by the employees- one and all. Head of a ‘larger family’
    He had the habit of arriving in office at opening time, avoiding the main entrance where the HO and his office was located, in the neighbouring street and walking, greeting one by one with a short, but welcome “chit chat”, on every floor accumulating a wealth of information as to the business, business trends and the direction of the organisation – both good and bad, before start of his business day.
    When due to changes in circumstances in my work life, I came to occupy the cubicle of the Sales Manager, which had glass panes smoked/painted opaque to provide privacy and less inadvertent disturbance by the milling, customers in the showrooms adjacent to it.
    The second day after occupying this cubicle, MD whilst passing had a word of advice. Opening the cubicle door and in a whispering tone, requested that, “I get maintenance department strip the glass panes of paint, to make them clear”.

  • 4
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    To vaccinate the population of over 21million the govt first need vaccine. loads of them. around 41million

    But what they have is perhaps a couple of million vaccine. made up of oxford AZ Chinese Sinopharm

    So far the govt has failed to state how and when they are going to get the required 41miilionn vaccinate

    Prof. Thangamuthu Jayasingam no point putting a % pie chart by age. This is absolutely useless information

    you should put a pie % by who got the virus and their connection to the Rajapaksa’s.

    why haven’t you asked the question what is the govt’s plant to obtain 40million vaccine

    they buy opening and inauguration highways that gives them lucrative 10 %
    fxxk vaccinating the population …I am alright jacj

    • 2
      2

      R
      Sinopharm was not WHO endorsed until a few days ago. Had it been earlier, the country may have had a fair stock in hand to meet targets.
      The pie-chart is useful to identify who are most vulnerable. Those under 60 or even 65 and have no serious ailments seem safe, as they are seem to be in the West where death reportedly has been predominantly among over 75s or even 80s and in nursing homes and homes for the aged.
      There are lessons to learn if we wish to, so that the limited resources target those who truly need protection. There is, however, a problem of social discipline, not unique to us.
      The virus does not seem to be an indiscriminate killer but hurts badly ones whose immune systems are weak.
      *
      True, the government mishandled the problem, but it was lucky that things did not fly out of control until after October. Even then, the tendency was to see the infection as something in manageable little patches, without a total picture.
      *
      We can overcome the crisis even with less vaccines than suggested if only the stock can be well managed.

  • 6
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    Everything appears to be doctored to satisfy the leaders. Look at the LPG cylinder, and see who had doctored the canard.

  • 2
    1

    Very valid points,
    Citizens in Colombo had been unfairly prioritized.
    Government seems to be not in control, decisions are taken in an ad hoc manner expecting some miracles.
    The government at least by now should have developed a comprehensive plan for controlling Covid-19

  • 8
    5

    6.9 mio punnaku drinkers and eater would unanimously say- Rajapakshes should be on the top cof the list of all priority list. But My conscience say, it should be all elderly people regardless of any ranks. NGR has failed to control over the mechanism s, though he self adulate him to be the best to have contained the virus from spreading. These men grabbed entire credit so called war victory making the nation jokers for the civilised world. As one live in Europe I think twice before going to explain my origin today. Is that not because Rajapakshe barbarism? Banda earned all credit in Europe. I was then very proud to tell anyone that I come from ” ceylon ” now instead I keep quiet. ☹☹☹☹☹☹☹

  • 12
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    You cannot find any one in this government without a criminal record or background. You cannot expect any thing better than the current level performance. Corona deaths is not a priority for this government. As long as they are safe, that is all.

    • 7
      3

      So sure?
      If so by any criterion, that will make all MPs culpable.

      • 4
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        Sivasegaram do you recognise these names? Sharma, Canto, Arul, Belleth, Arasa, Ruperty.

        • 4
          3

          How can Sivasegaram recognize those names when he was there only for two years. He may know only Bruin, Baldsingh, Muttukumaru, etc. Sharma ( Chemistry), Canto (English), Arul (Science), Belleth (Physics), Arasa (Maths) and Ruperty (Latin) were my teachers.

          • 5
            1

            Two years or two months, he still belongs. Besides, I like his posts, gentle and sane in this mad world. You probably know that Arasa passed away in 2017, a fine teacher .

          • 4
            3

            GS
            Did anybody ask you anything regarding me?
            Or, is your purpose to claim ownership of teachers?
            *
            What did they teach you at school?
            Not good manners I suppose.

        • 3
          3

          Paul
          Thanks.
          Canto, Belleth, Arul and Arasa I remember but they did not teach me.
          I knew Lakshmana Iyer, gem of a man, but not Sharma.

    • 1
      8

      Ajith,

      Every man has a Criminal record. It’s like a medal of hounour. Who doesn’t have a Criminal record? Only sissies don’t have Criminal records.

      • 3
        2

        There so a difference between you and I having a criminal record but if the God figure who makes the law having a criminal record that is very dangerous.

      • 5
        0

        RSP
        ……..”Every MAN has a Criminal record”……
        Not politically correct. If it is general, better say Anyone or Everyone.

        • 0
          4

          MyView,

          Women don’t engage physically to have criminal records. They get their men to do that.

          • 2
            0

            ……….They get their men to do that………..
            Oh! But then getting someone to engage in a criminal act is also considered a crime. Aiding Abetting Accomplice are legal terms used in criminology.

            • 0
              1

              MV
              It looks as if they persuade the male to accept full responsibility, in writing.

          • 3
            0

            Regi boy, the army mutt and mascot has spoken some trash again.

      • 3
        0

        Regi Shemale boy, only sissies? Hahahaha this is what happens a grade 5 dropout is allowed in a 3rd world army as a low class private. If it wasn’t for the army, you idiot would have been begging on the streets. Even in the army you were a low class private.

  • 3
    0

    From the very beginning, SL was in total darkness in combating the virus. GR, in keeping with his tough rhetoric, knew only about imposing a curfew continuously for weeks to isolate the public but failed to understand the hardships the average citizen has to undergo by this drastic action. Instead of forming a think tank of experts on the subject, the govt. allowed the GMOA to hijack the situation to score brownie points by boasting how well the pandemic was controlled. Testing & tracing was limited to ‘raids at dawn’ in military fashion & locking up those considered infected in appalling conditions. Cronies profited from tourists allowed into the country, as well as, those who were stranded abroad by fleecing their hard earned money for quarantine facilities. Instead of a strategy to vaccinate the public & allocating funds for necessary treatment, the Govt., including the health minister, sought divine intervention & promoted unproven home concoctions of a snake oil vendor, which was a total fraud. Now there is another specialist minister appointed for pandemics but despite her western medical background, she seems to be lost as well. The govt. has not cooperated, nor learnt from other countries, & as usual, nobody is accountable for the mishandling, the economic devastation & preventable deaths.

  • 3
    0

    “Basil Rajapaksa left for the USA to receive treatment, Sagara Kariyawasam, the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) told News 1st.”

    Hope this is not paid for using the President Fund. Then again these are guy’s who used state funds to build a memorial for the parents.

  • 3
    0

    First of all the health minister has no Honor so please stop calling her the Honorable Minister of health. She is an absolute stupid cow with a potty big mouth. For this reason I used to refer to her as Wachalaarchchi. But even that name is too good for her since she partook of the Dhammika Panniya and dumped water pots in rivers and then proceeded to contract the Corona virus, got very sick then refused to be warded at the IDH and took nurses and equipment and went home to be treated there. Now for the second point in what universe do you think you are living in. This is Sri Lanka where people do not understand the concept of a que. Every one wants to go first then boast about how they got it before every body else. This disease goes all the way to a villages where instead of quieng they will all push and push without waiting in line. The third point is what’s the point of prioritizing when there is no vaccine. Sri Lankan’s do not understand the differences between Astra Zaneca, Sputnik, or Sinopharm. The lying press keeps them in the dark about the differences.

  • 3
    0

    They do not know that Sinopharm was only authorized for emergency use. They do not know that Sinopharm has not completed stage three evaluation for side effects even though the Chinese government in its greed to make money from Sinopharm pushed the WHO to grant it recognition. They do not know that China has withheld shipments of raw material used in Drug productions in India resulting in a shortage of all drugs including a slow down of the Serum Institute’s output of Astra Zaneca.They do not know that this virus should be referred to as the WUHAN virus. They do not know that the headquaters of all virus research into biologically weaponizing such viruses is carried out in Wuhan. They have been told as has been the rest of the world that belives in grovelling at the feet of China that this virus spread to humans in Wuhan from animals sold in a wet market. It is so convenient to make up such a biologically impossible fairy tale for the gullible. At best this virus was optimized for its capability to mutate and spread among human beings and kept stored in the Wuhan institute. Somehow, maybe by accident it leaked out of the LAB!

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