Third wave: The most challenging task for health sector | Sunday Observer

Third wave: The most challenging task for health sector

23 May, 2021
Despite criticism by the political opposition, the vaccination program is proceeding swiftly with the newly approved sinopharm vaccine (Pic: Rukmal Gamage)
Despite criticism by the political opposition, the vaccination program is proceeding swiftly with the newly approved sinopharm vaccine (Pic: Rukmal Gamage)

The Government is facing perhaps the most challenging and daunting task in its tenure of nearly one-and-a-half-years to control the rapid spread of the Covid-19 third wave. The same Government was lauded by many countries and the World Health Organization for containing the virus in the first wave with a minimum number of cases and deaths.

Even the second wave was managed well with daily cases down to less than 200 and a few deaths by the end of March. The number of cured patients went up to over 96% and the death rate was as low as 0.5%. The irony is that not a soul recollects the feat today as always happens in Sri Lanka reminding the authorless quote “people always forget the good things you have done”.

It is a fact that there is a shortage of hospital beds, ICU units, ventilators, and ambulances currently. However, the entire Government machinery including tri-forces, health establishments, and many other State institutions are deeply and seriously engaged in improving all these facilities.

Fast on track

Not only they are involved but also the progress is tangible, visibly swift, and productive as everyone can witness. The NOCPCO has pledged 10,000 hospital beds for emergency use is being executed with efficiency and will be ready for occupation within days. The largest makeshift Covid-19 treatment hospital with 1,200 beds at Seeduwa is completed and the project was completed at an amazing speed, displaying the capacity of the soldiers. The Military has planned several similar projects that will be completed shortly.

Besides, the Military provides immense support to ground-level health workers in the vaccination program. This also is evidence that the Sri Lankan Military is multi-faceted and capable of rising to any national need.

It is no secret that the Government is stretched to the capacity and requires assistance from every single person in the country in this national crisis. This includes the public who are compelled to help the authorities by adhering to guidelines and all other experts not only in the health sector but also those who are professionals in any other field.

Opposition hindering process

Regrettably, the main opposition, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and others such as Jantha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has never stopped the scathing attacks on the Government since the break out of the new wave just after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. They keep on accusing the Government of not closing down the country before the New Year holidays. However, the Government responds that if they had closed down the country, the Opposition parties would have blamed the Government for not allowing people to celebrate the festival.

For example, when the Government imposed complete restriction of movement for three days from May 13-17, the SJB promptly condemned the move through one of their parliamentary members, stating that this action was taken to harass a certain community and because of a major religious festival falling on the 14th of the month. This is clearly contradictory to what they have cried out loud since the New Year days to close down the country. On the other hand, this statement can instigate religious disharmony in the country.

A certain political party that has not done any productive contribution to the country for the past 60 plus years, is taking full advantage of the situation. Seemingly their sinister intention is to improve the already deteriorated vote base. At this crucial time, instead of helping the public, most of the members of this political party keep attacking every move the Government makes. Almost all their allegations are baseless, hearsay or disinformation to discredit the Government and to create havoc in society.

Adding fuel to the fire, various medical associations, and trade unions, and at times individuals keep on making contradictory statements in public, confusing the citizens. Since the emergence of the third wave, these statements, most often with severe allegations, create chaos in society. At times, very important issues relevant to the virus from one organisation are challenged by another.

As in many other national issues, the absence of a single authority to make public statements is a definite setback at this crucial juncture. The only coordinated information published daily is the figure of the number of cases and deaths presented to the media daily by the Head of NOCPCO, Gen. Shavendra Silva which has not been confronted by anyone so far.

Seemingly, key institutions and organisations such as the Epidemiology Unit of the Ministry of Health, Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA), Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA), Government Medical Officers Forum (GMOF), and Public Services United Nurses’ Union (PSUNU) are openly disagreeing with each other on common issues. Generating more puzzling public opinion these professional groups make conflicting statements almost daily on the situation. It is clear that none of these organisations intend to discredit the Government in any way. Nevertheless, they create huge public uncertainties.

Taking a cue, the Opposition and other interested groups level allegations at the Government and other related institutions, creating more confusion in the public mind. Their sole intention is purely political opportunism to bring disrepute to the Government. They know that slandering or criticising the Government at this point does not gain anything on the Covid-19 issue, yet continue to do so to gain political mileage.

In this backdrop, understandably, the Government is reluctant to accept the help the Opposition keeps on offering since mid-April. Apart from the mistrust, they perhaps doubt the efficiency or intellectual contribution the Opposition can offer.

As per the Government sources, they have completely disregarded the calls from the Opposition for support because of the accusation by the Opposition that the Government has made the Covid-19 controlling process politicised. The Opposition parties have made these allegations since the first day of the emergence of the pandemic in Sri Lanka in March of Last year. The opinion of the Government is that the opposition has not made any contribution to the fight against the pandemic at any time. Instead, the opposition kept disturbing the process by incessantly criticising at every move, the Government declares.

Vaccinations going on

Despite criticism by the political opposition, the vaccination program is proceeding swiftly with the newly approved sinopharm vaccine. When most of the countries in the world are currently undergoing an acute shortage of Covid-19 vaccines, vaccinating over 1.1 million people is a creditable performance from the first arrival of the vaccine in February, compared to the world numbers including rich countries such as Italy, Germany, France, and Canada.

A well-coordinated national vaccination programme is ongoing with the assistance of health workers, the tri-forces, and voluntary organisations. According to General Shavendra Silva, several private sector organisations voluntarily offered assistance to provide shelters at vaccination centers. The Health Ministry has confirmed that they have already placed confirmed orders with manufacturers to vaccinate 63% of the population before the end of the year.

As for the prevailing AstraZeneca shortage of 600,000 doses, according to the State Minister of Pharmaceutical Production, a severe shortage prevails throughout the world due to the existing dire situation in India and the severe demand worldwide. However, the Government is currently negotiating to bring down vaccines with the countries that possess extra stocks. Meanwhile, according to medical experts, experiments are conducted in many countries to determine whether a mix and match method can be developed where a different vaccine can be administered to another as the second dose.

Quite understandably, discontentment surfaced from a section of the public for not closing down the country completely for a specified period. However, according to Government sources, a larger portion of the public, specifically over 60% of workers in the informal sector has opposed imposing a total countrywide lockdown.

The Government, without totally closing down the country, has introduced new regulations on restriction of movement throughout the country until May 31. Obviously, the decision is somewhat late but the new measures will likely be productive to control the rapidly spreading virus in the country. Seemingly, the citizenry that became relaxed during the New Year period has taken a serious stance consciously and following health guidelines adequately.