Covid-19 and Sri Lanka’s leveraging potential | Sunday Observer

Covid-19 and Sri Lanka’s leveraging potential

22 November, 2020

What is Sri Lanka’s international leveraging position in these pandemic times? What does it have that is unique in the world? Being a country with an ancient heritage and a knowledge system. This ranges from engineering to medical science.

The next question would be; how does one begin to use Sri Lanka’s unique heritage knowledge in a practical sense in times of pandemics.

Well, begin by not being afraid to acknowledge what is one’s birthright. Begin by using it when the country needs it most. If there are cases where Sri Lanka’s herbs and medicinal food/ancient medicinal science have boosted the immunity of patients from the risk of Covid-19 or cured them faster than the usual time it takes for Covid-19 to be eliminated from the body,avoid shying away from acknowledging it to ourselves first and then the world.

There should exist in our genes, something of the memory that we are from generations where medicinal knowledge linked to the soil of our country was in the veins of our ancestors. Robert Knoxin his memoirs marveled at the medical expertise of the people of this country, not just physicians. What has happened to that collective consciousness of ours today – despite being pawns of colonisation, globalisation and the brainwashing that comes with it, is there nothing to salvage from who we were as a civilisation which had the first ‘modern’ hospital in the world in Mihintale, replete with medical equipment and fittings?


We should equip each and every child with the knowledge of our medicinal heritage, our herbs and the use of our traditional food as medicine. This has to be an integral part of our education system beginning with the earliest years of learning to inculcate this knowledge in children. At a conference last year at the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka on indigenous medicine, it was noted in the discourse that whatever our heritage sciences that we have discarded, thrive elsewhere, often in the countries that were instrumental in making us feel ashamed of this knowledge.

Ironically, there are hundreds of the Westerners who have learned Ayurveda from India and gone back to their home countries to set up lucrative businesses under various fancy names involving health and often selling this ‘knowledge’ back to us.

While India has used its Ayurveda to brand itself globally for economic progress, mainly Ayurvedic medical industry, tourism and related fields, Sri Lanka has done nothing to promote internationally its ancient DeshiyaChikitsa (Sinhala Wedakama) which is distinct from Ayurveda although having some common features.

For those unfamiliar with the difference, two minor examples amid hundreds of others are; the Ratha Kalkaya given traditionally to infants for immunity and the administering of a curative therapyfor iron deficiency by grinding Gotukola (Centellaasiatica)leaves and placing a nail heated in flames in the extracted juice, which are part of the manyother forms of Deshiya Chikitsa cures that include Kalka, Guli and Thaila. We have not realised what spiritual merit, what financial profit, what international stature we could get by reconnecting with our medicinal heritage that we lost due to centuries of colonisation. Instead, we have become the instruments of demeaning this knowledge.

One of the points focused on at the RASL symposium on indigenous medicine last year, was the fact that today, grand parents and parents have to witness their children dying first.This is a menace in so-called advanced countries as highlighted by those, such as Western qualified Lankan nutritionist, Dr. DamayanthiPerera at many forums.

Options of health

The fact that immune deficiency and Non-Communicable Diseases(NCDs) are a plague in the West is seen through the Covid-19 death scores. The fact that the West has always longed for Eastern options of health is clear in the Ayurveda tourism demand in Kerala (considered a haven for tourism) by the world. Sri Lankans going abroad for Ayurveda treatment is a stark paradox on how we have underestimated the potential of our own medical heritage.

The Global Wellness Institute, UK revealed in a study in November 2018 that the wellness tourism market estimated then to be $639 billion will reach $919 billion by 2022.

When we talk of tourism resurgence, why are we not strategically looking at these possibilities? Why are we notensuring that we win this pandemic with the centuries-old proven medical inheritance of Deshiya Chikitsa and Ayurveda and then showcasing this victory to the world to be able to get a niche for indigenous medical heritage tourism and related product creation?

Kerala is our immediate competitor in the wellness tourism market. Until May this year, it looked as if an Ayurvedic paradise, which was also a hub for Homeopathy and had made an example of how integrated medicine, including Allopathy, could work in cohesion to reduce the number of Covid-19 patients through faster cures and immunity boosting for prevention.

Immunity boosters

The failure to use a cultural asset, such as traditional medicine at a time that is needed most, will erase the authenticity or credibility of marketing it through tourism. Sri Lanka which reined in socialising could easily replace Kerala as the global hub for Ayurveda. Deshiya Chikitsa could have incredible potential not only for tourism but also for export of traditional medicinal products, such as immunity boosters. All of us as Sri Lankans have to work hard to ensure that our economic situation is saved by using our expertise.

A vision that begins with unity among medical specialists and incorporates a system to educate ourselves on our medicinal heritage is needed for enabling the country of these possibilities.We could begin with changing the phone recording we hear that merely says to stay at home and fear the pandemic.

We could use a meaningful phone recording which informs the people of certified details that certain heat levels kill the virus and encourage the use of our ancient vapour inhalation/steaming alongside advising people to eat traditional food. Such a phone recording could list out diverse herbs known to raise immunity and warn against eating poisonous imported substances which pass off for food. Such an initiative will also likely tousher in food entrepreneurs who are conscious of the value of traditional food.

It is possible that such as SARS and MERS, the coronavirus will likely to have many other avatars.It is juvenile to think that we could keep making vaccines at the drop of a hat every time a virus summersaults to a new identity.

In this backdrop, it is up to the authorities, from education, health/indigenous medicine promotion, agriculture and industries and all of us, Sri Lankans, in our diverse capacities, to begin to see, learn and act on the larger vision of how heritage of a nation is not just the past but belongs also in the present and the future.