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Opinion

State of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka: Are Government Policies Effective in Controlling it?

The writer is Professor of Medicine, Director, Cardio-Metabolic Institute, New Jersey, U.S.A.

NEW JERSEY, Apr 28 2021 (IPS) - The SARS-CoV-2 infection (COVID-19) affected the entire world; many died, millions got sick, and the misery continues. Second and third waves of SARS.Cov-2 infection are devastating most countries.

Non-strategic lockdowns and curfews (as in Sri Lanka) further aggravated the peoples’ misery, sufferings, daily lives, and economies, more than that from the virus. The toxic combination of COVID-19 and curfews devastated local productions and supply chains, livelihoods, people welfare, food security, and the county’s economy.

Many viral diseases can control using natural and non-pharmacological approaches, adhering to public health standards, personal hygiene, and maintaining health: COVID-19 is not an exemption.

SARS.Cov-2 viruses enter humans mainly through the respiratory tract epithelial, causing predominantly immunological (cytokine storm), cardiovascular (clots), and multiple endocrinological abnormalities.

In some, the combined effects can be deadly. In addition to supportive therapies, preventing clots, cytokine storms, and providing oxygen, treatments should be geared to prevent complications in the mentioned systems.

Approximately a quarter of persons who develop complications develop an intractable “post-COVID syndrome.” This protracted disease mainly arises from the longer-term adverse effects in the central nervous system (mainly the brain) and must be prevented.

The combination of strengthening the innate immune system with nutrient vitamin D and vaccination significantly reduces this serious complication following COVID-19.

Governmental actions to control COVID-19

Sri Lanka’s President delegated full responsibility of COVID control to a handful of people and made government funds available. Nevertheless, the lack of systems thinking, focus, practical strategies, and misinterpretations of data preclude proper control of COVID-19 that led to a countrywide community spread, from May 2020.

Moreover, weak leadership and egotism led to improper and vague policies jeopardising the economy, people, and the country. Ineffective and harmful policies (some originated from WHO and CDC) led to contradictions, confusion and collectively eroded public trust. The lack of transparency and accountability of the government and its administrators further compromised COVID control.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is working closely with global experts, governments and partners to rapidly expand scientific knowledge on this new virus, to track the spread and virulence of the virus, and to provide advice to countries and individuals on measures to protect health and prevent the spread of this outbreak.

The lack of vision and practical strategies, inexperience in managing epidemics, and the refusal to consult experts with managing epidemics led to creating flawed policies that hurt the economy.

Despite the hard work of healthcare workers and other frontline personnel, the second wave of COVID began in August 2020; within weeks, it got out of control. In June 2020, the author predicted the impending second wave in August and the third wave in April 2021.

The inability to comprehend the viruses’ biology, failure to adjust an effective (living)strategy to control the spread, and failure to use acceptable means to enhance natural immunity, prevented successful control of the epidemic.

Besides misinterpreting statistics and consequently enforcing island-wide curfew inappropriately, refusing community PCR testing, and preventing conducting crucial prevention and treatment randomised controlled clinical studies, and the failure to incorporate emerging scientific data for better management of COVID-19 were few lost opportunities for Sri Lanka.

What should have been done

Conducting broader preventative actions, including prioritising humane “home” quarantining and local production of high-quality, reliable PCR kits, would have markedly reduced the government’s economic burden and peoples suffering.

The government had plenty of time to prevent hospitals and the healthcare sector burden. For example, increasing the populations’ innate immunity could have achieved through safe sun exposure advice and vitamin D supplementation. These would have prevented COVID-19-associated complications and deaths.

There was no rationale for military-style, forced quarantining of people. Those exposed to a person infected with COVID-19 and PCR positive asymptomatic persons could have better and cost-effectively managed in their homes, with oversights from the medical officer of health and public health inspectors.

Such simple measures would have improved the safety and well-being of people and markedly reduce government costs. Collectively, these approaches would have cost less than 10% of what the government spent (and continue to spend) on COVID-19 and associated significant opportunity costs.

Community spreads could have prevented through geographically limited lockdowns not exceeding two weeks while supplying essentials to the local community. Shutting down entire districts or the country was a colossal mistake. Consequently, small businesses and self-employed and daily wage-earners accounting for two-thirds of adults in Sri Lanka were worst affected.

Pitfalls of managing COVID-19 in Sri Lanka

Public trust and cooperation are essential in successfully managing an epidemic or any severe crisis. The loss of trust was detrimental for the governance, especially the belief that neither the administration nor law enforcement has genuine interests or intentions to control the COVID-19 epidemic and protect the public. These concepts entrenched following turning the COVID misery into a profitable business.

Ironically, the decision-makers who enforced draconian restrictions had all supplies for themselves and full salaries. Simultaneously, the lower-middle-class and the poor, two-thirds of the country, suffered the most.

Besides, inappropriate curfew also interrupted local travel and businesses, tourism, air travel, hotel industry, import and export trade, and all supply chains, causing significant food insecurity and financial burdens on over 80% of the population. It will take years to recover from the harmful effects of COVID, amplified by poor administrative decisions.

The lack of candour and commercialisation of COVID-19 is understandably worrisome for the local public, expatriates, and the international community. Boosting the supply-chain-related businesses by respective administrations during the LTTE war and COVID-19 are remarkably similar: achieved at the public expense. In both cases, a handful of the same set of companies allied with the government became rich.

Moreover, faulty actions in 2020 significantly increased poverty and malnutrition, worsen existing medical disorders, the disease burden, suicides and excess premature deaths, and increase healthcare costs.

Instead of strengthening the power base, militarisation, and environmental destruction, the government should focus on disease prevention, improving education and health, supply chain, exports, national security, re-establish law and order and freedom of speech, increase food security, and lower the cost of living. These would facilitate getting the country back on track for prosperity.

 


  
 
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