|‘Physician’ heal thyself
Sri Lanka may be rid of the scourge of terror, but the country
is facing a different kind of war now - epidemics of
Leptospirosis (Rat fever), Dengue fever and last but not the
least, Swine fever.
The Dengue epidemic, in particular, had been predicted in
Medical circles for many months. But Health Minister Nimal
Siripala de Silva and some of his equally inefficient top
officials were lackadaisical in their approach, until the crisis
reached alarming proportions: over a 130 dead, most of them
children, and we are only in the first half of the year yet. In
contrast, in the previous worst epidemic 88 died in a year.
And when the epidemic reached a peak, what do the Ministry
mandarins do? The Epidemiologists gleefully hog the media
limelight to enlighten us with their pearls of wisdom - ghastly
statistics of an ever rising death toll! What they did, to
prevent this outbreak, is anybody’s guess.
And, what of Minister de Silva himself? Of course, this being
Sri Lanka, we don’t expect him to rush to President Mahinda
Rajapaksa, resignation letter in hand, because we know he is too
enamoured with his Ministry. The least we expect of him is some
dignity and decorum in discussing the predicament, but he turns
it into lighthearted, lascivious banter, claiming that Dengue
spreads because Dengue mosquitoes are attracted by those wearing
What, we wonder, would have been the feelings of those who
are bereaved by the deaths of family members due to Dengue.
The latest scandal to hit the headlines is the appearance of
Swine fever in the country. At a time when the Dengue epidemic
is reaching dizzy heights, Minister de Silva’s proud but
premature boast was that he and his Ministry was doing the right
thing, which is why Swine fever did not spread to Sri Lanka. We
wonder what ridiculous explanation de Silva now has for the
entry of the Swine fever virus into the country.
In this day and age, when international travel is routine, it
was a matter of time, before the disease appeared in Sri Lanka.
Nevertheless, we must question whether adequate precautions were
taken to detect the disease and treat those affected. And the
answers to these questions point in a different direction.
Then, it has been found that half the passengers aboard the
flight that brought the first Swine fever victim to the country
have evaded medical screening - nor have they filled out their
disembarkation cards properly; so, they cannot be traced now.
Surely, these are all basic preventive measures that could have
been put in place, had the Health Ministry’s Epidemiologists and
other responsible officials had an iota of common sense and an
ounce of commitment.
This appears to be what is lacking, even in the control of
Dengue. While we were treated to the spectacle of Minister de
Silva rolling up his shirt sleeves (exposing himself to the
Dengue mosquito in the process!) and doing ‘shramadana’ to clear
areas of mosquito breeding, that type of activity appears to be
still the exception, rather than the rule.
Mountains of garbage keep on accumulating, drainage systems
are blocked and stagnant, and our environment is as dirty as
ever. The vital coordination between the Ministries of Health,
Environment and Local Government that is essential, if we are to
keep our surroundings clean and thereby, prevent the dengue
mosquito from spreading its kind, is simply non-existent. So,
the death toll keeps on rising.
The Ministry’s response has been to enact new regulations to
prosecute those who encourage places of mosquito breeding. But
will prosecuting individuals stem the tide, especially when an
epidemic is raging? And, who then is to be prosecuted for all
the clogged drains and mountains of dirt that are an integral
feature of our urban landscape? Can the local authorities and
other agencies, whose responsibility it is to maintain services
of garbage and water disposal, be put in the dock? That would be
Maybe Minister de Silva should learn a bit of history from his
Cabinet colleague Dinesh Gunawardena, whose father, Philip, was
instrumental in fighting Malaria through the ‘Suriya Mal’
movement, along with the likes of S.A. Wickremasinghe and N.M.
Perera. Those were the halcyon days, when politicians put
country before self, and worked for a cause!
The strategies adopted to contain Malaria and Filaria have
been largely successful in this country, and have been hailed as
role models for other nations in the region. Why then are we so
inept at curbing the Dengue epidemic, at a time when Medical
Science is progressing by leaps and bounds? Is it because the
Dengue mosquito is becoming increasingly ingenious or should the
Ministry of Health turn the searchlight inwards?
It is a month since the war against terror was won, and as a
nation, we take justifiable pride in that achievement. In
retrospect, it was said that a major contributory factor in that
victory was President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s knack for picking the
right man for the right job in the Defence establishment, and
then giving them a free hand, free from any political
Maybe it is time then, that the President adopts the same
strategy in the wars against Dengue, Swine fever and
Leptospirosis, because, obviously, we do not seem to be having
the right men for the right job right now.