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Sri Lanka must not turn the blind eye when there is a“No Risk”option to implement against COVID-19

“…..The opportunity is our capability to use quarantine centers and PCR testing to support the effectiveness of time tested Ayurveda immunity enhancement options….”

by Professor N.T.Sohan Wijesekera

Living with COVID-19

Recent expressions of Sri Lankan health authorities and Presidential Task Force for COVID-19 signify that our government has arrested COVID-19 to a satisfactory level. However, the expectations for a tested vaccine in the early 2021 remains farfetched. Though there is no argument that COVID-19 is continuing to threaten our lives in an unprecedented manner, governments world over including ours, are now making efforts to return to normalcy. This means that until a vaccine is developed, humans have to continue with their livelihoods while living in constant fear.


Under these circumstances, the public has to know their options. WHO advice for the public to protect themselves and others from the spread of COVID 19 is to adhere to 8 practices. They are, to clean hands, maintain a minimum of 1-meter safe social distance, avoid crowded places, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth, cover mouth and nose with bent elbow or tissue when cough or sneeze, stay home and self-isolate even with minor symptoms, in case of fever, cough and breathing difficulty, seek medical attention, and keep up to date on the latest information from trusted sources such as WHO or your local and national health authorities.

In Sri Lanka, some are eagerly waiting to get out of their houses and return to work. However, proving otherwise, the recent experiences showed that in many cities even during the curfew-lifted hours, the roads were deserted, shops were closed. Under these circumstances, our government commenced a cautionary relaxation of its lockdown to get the economy back on track. One third of national work force was limited to “work in office”, while the other two thirds were notified to “work from home”.Making use of the given opportunity, several economic sectors attempted a kickstart. However, constraints such as, restricted inter-district mobility, difficulties to obtain health certifications, reluctance of many to come out of their homes, and difficulties in finding welcome accommodation, had not produced the expected results.

The Ground Reality

Though many were wearing face masks and the offices and shops were equipped with temperature gauging and hand washing facilities, there were many obstacles to keeping the workforce WHO compliant. Our transport systems, our work places including factories and construction sites, the shopping areas etc., are not geared to the requirements of the health guidelines. Let alone the social physical distancing, even frequent handwashing and temperature measurements appeared as a set of hard-to-practice tasks.

The most contributing industry to the GDPis construction. With its typical way of practice,construction would find it extremely difficult to survive if COVID-19 is not arrested. Even prior to COVID 19 came into existence, many of our construction workers had preferred to take the risk of injury rather than wearing safety helmets and boots. Hence construction industry will face an uphill task when attempting to adhere to health regulations.

Colombo and Gampaha, the two most densely populated districts will face immense problems when trying to live in a COVID-19-controlled environment. In these districts, one finds many who live in small housing units. Existence of the port, airport, factories, markets, hotels and offices, attract many migratory workers who stay mostly in shared units. This creates a huge problem for authorities to maintain the health standards.Need to wash clothes after returning home from daily work would impose an additional burden on the daily wage earner. Other than the above, bathing prior to entering home, keeping shoes outside the house, cleansing everything prior to getting back in to a room or an apartment, washing and cleaning vehicles after returning from work, using clean face masks or finding a new disposable mask for each day use, cleaning spectacles, purse and diaries etc., are hurdles that have to be cleared by a normal office worker or a construction worker.

These details have to carefully evaluated. On one hand, the threat of COVID-19 requires us to take sufficient precautions. On the other hand,we must consider whether a majority of our community would be economically capable to abide by the health requirements. Now the most pertinent question one must ask is “How practical would it be to commence work so that the outputs would make at least a positive contribution?”. If we suspect that COVID-19 has not been arrested, then the best option would be to keep the nation at home. If so, “what will happen to oureconomy?”.

The Strong will Survive

Under these circumstances, let us revisit the recommended precautions against COVID-19 and the available medicine. The most curious fact is that even four months after China first reported to WHO about the unknown virus, the western medical advice has not moved beyond recommendations on how to avoid exposure to COVID-19 virus. The first advice is for the public to avoid, be patient and hopeful. If there is a suspected case, the advice is to self-quarantine, or to seek support of a quarantine center. A the same time, western practitioners who came on air have mentioned that if critical then the ICU and ventilators would come into play.At this point of time, one gets the impression that, the strong will recover with oxygen support but the weak will succumb.

It is quite natural for a person to inquire a doctor on ways to get strong. In this regard, the western medical practice is uncharacteristically silent. However, several of Sri Lanka’s non-western medical practitioners have come forward to guide the public towards immunity enhancement. These doctors while stressing the need for more nature friendly dietary habits, go further to provide home remedies and medicines to be safe from COVID-19. This is a heart-warming support when the whole world is desperate even to cling on to any straw that come their way.

Immunity Enhancement Options

Both the western and non-western medical practices agree that most fundamental requirement is our immunity. We all know the immense strength in our body to perform under difficult conditions. Many data from affected countries reflect that the elderly with low immune levels are the worst hit. In this backdrop, one wonders about the silence of western medical practice about immunity enhancement other than the ultimate vaccine or plasma transplants.Certainly, the western medical practitioners in Sri Lanka must be capable of providing the next best options for immunity enhancement until such most desirable options appear. In this case, the only rational guess is that, such recommendations cannot be made by responsible medical practitioners without “sufficient clinical trials”. Conversely, non-western practitioners pronounce that their counsels need no clinical trials because their recommended remedies are simple, known to many and have been time tested. This is where the public are sandwiched between the clinical trials and long years of practice. What are our options?

The medical practice in Sri Lanka consist of several options, including Western, Ayurveda and Native practices. At this point let me extract a statement from a journal to ensure reader clarity. “Ayurveda is the official term used in Sri Lanka to denote collectively all the traditional medical systems. It encompasses Ayurveda, the predominant system which came to the island from India with Buddhism 2,500 years ago, as well as Siddha, Unani, and DesiyaChikithsa, the latter being the earliest system of medicine existing in Sri Lanka before the advent of Ayurveda”. Hence, “DesiyaChikithsa” is the practice native to our country.

The Distinct Difference

A comparison of information in the media reveals a distinct difference between the Western and Ayurveda. The visible distinction is that the Ayurveda medical practices go beyond their western counterparts and recommend medicines to prevent an attack of COVID 19. Right from the start,our traditional practitioners have been making many recommendations to those who are classified as COVID 19 vulnerable. Apart from the above, some Ayurveda recommendations even proceed further by recommending simple liquid dietary programs and steam inhaling with additives to achieve fast recovery from COVID-19. On the internet there are claims that our native medicine had cured COVID-19 patients. Then the question that pops out of any one’s mind is “why are we not practicing such medicine?”.

One reason may be because our “Ministry of Health and Indigenous Medical Services” is yet to turn towards indigenous medicine. Another may be because, our policy makers and a majority of our doctors who have a strong allegiance towards the western products seek supporting clinical trials and reviewed publications. Then there is another unproven allegation but with reason to ponder. It is the accusation that both branches of the ministry of heath are under the grips of the drug industry and they are playing for time till a vaccine comes to the surface.

Grab the opportunity

It is opportune for us to think of our countries plight. Though we claim that ours is a middle-income country, we know that there is a long way ahead. Our economy has struggled during the last political regime. The public with very high expectations had voted for the new president. Even if the administrators are under the command of the western medicine, the new regime appears too young to get influenced. Therefore,if there is an opportunity then we still stand a chance of reaping the benefits.

The opportunity is our capability to use quarantine centers and PCR testing to support the effectiveness of time testedAyurveda immunity enhancement options. In an environment where there is no western medicine for those who are either suspected of or in the early stages of COVID-19, our traditional doctors can seize the opportunity to administer non-contradicting immunity enhancement.

Our researchers must think out of the box to quantitatively assess the recovery durations and the effect of native treatments. The present era is much more advanced than it was a decade ago. There are many mathematical and statistical methods to assign due merits and demerits to qualitative indicators in order to arrive at quantitative indicators. Besides, this is already happening even in western medical evaluations. Therefore, the need of clinical trials is not an absolute measurement when there is sufficient time tested proof of successes.However, we now have the golden opportunity where we carryout PCR testing at quarantine centers. We need to grab this opportunity.

The merits

Once a structured PCR testing program is mobilized at the quarantine centers, we would come to know the effectiveness of our traditional immunity enhancement practices. We need to find out how fast can an affected person recover. Such findings would overcome the present working constraints and enable our economy to go back to its normalcy.This would be the biggest sigh of relief for our policy makers and especially the president who is impatient and eager to lift the country out of its economic depression. I do not have to emphasize that this proposed investigation to capture the effectiveness of immunity enhancement is a “No Risk” option. We have nothing to lose but so much to gain.

Even though it is not publicly stated, social media reveals that our quarantine centers are already administering traditional medical practices. A recent videocast over the internet indicated that our armed forces have now sought assistance of Ayurveda medicine from a famous university in Gampaha District. This is a very encouraging news. Since the armed forces are in charge of quarantine centers, it is easy for the policy makers to enable PCR test results to open the doors for the traditional, time tested medical practices.When one considers thenon-western practice, there is agap in the similarity of the proceduresadministered across the country. This is where the Ministry of Health and Indigenous Medical Services must take a responsible lead to provide the much-needed uniformity. Though this would need a significant effort from the already fallen behind research in the non-western practice of Sri Lanka, it would not be difficult to establish a uniform set of immunity enhancement medicine for testing purposes.

The need of the hour is to use the PCR tests to support and bring the results to the front desk. This would be the shot in the arm that we have been waiting for. It would not only enable all those engaged in apparel, construction, and transport industries to work without the fear of COVID-19, but also for the foreign tourists to be safe under our hospitality.

I as an independent person believe that our traditional medicine has a very high potential to cure COVID 19. I am of the opinion that if the government intervenes and stop this tug o' war between the western and non-western practices by appointing a rational research-oriented mediator, then we would soon surface a cure, and the blessings from the entire world would be with our tiny island.

Professor N.T.Sohan Wijesekera, Senior Professor, University of Moratuwa, and the Chairman, Construction Industry Development Authority

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