Why Sri Lanka’s response to Covid-19 is the most successful in South Asia
Posted on August 18th, 2020

Courtesy TRT WORLD

Early lockdown, fast tracking of Covid-19 suspects and financial intervention in key areas, are the most significant highlights of their success story.

As the subcontinent struggles to flatten the coronavirus curve, with India alone recording 2.7 million cases and taking the third spot in the world, Sri Lanka offers a glimmer of hope in curbing the daily infection rate. 

So far the country has recorded 2,893 cases among its population of 21.67 million people. 

How did the Sri Lankan government manage to keep the deadly virus at bay?

Early lockdown, a high testing rate and effective social distancing measures have proved to be key for Sri Lanka in their fight against the pandemic and keeping the infection rate low. 

From March to the end of April, the country had conducted 930 tests per 1 million people, while its South Asian neighbours had a very low testing rate: Bangladesh (393), India (602) and Pakistan (703).

“More than 50 percent of the COVID-19 cases in Sri Lanka are of people between the ages of 20-60. These are relatively younger people who are less vulnerable to a severe presentation of the disease. A reason why most of the cases are mild may be that the lockdown in Sri Lanka started very early,” said Razia Pendse, a WHO representative to Sri Lanka. 

Another major source of support came in the form of The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) – it came up with policies for monetary easing from the start of 2020. CBSL suspended loan payments and launched a concessional refinancing programme of $27 million (Rs. 50 billion), which is 0.33 percent of the country’s GDP, for activities affected by the pandemic. 

Robust healthcare

The Sri Lankan government, led by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, also committed 0.1 percent of GDP for quarantine and containment measures, and an additional $5 million to the SAARC COVID-19 Emergency Fund. A Petroleum Stabilization Fund (PSF) was built to utilise the lower international prices of oil. A separate presidential contributory fund was also raised, which is worth $7.4 million to date.

Apart from all these measures, the government laid a strong emphasis on the surveillance system to keep COVID-19 mortality at bay.

In light of a remarkable response to the pandemic, health experts from around the world have lauded Sri Lanka’s healthcare system, which has already been made a case study for other countries since the 1980s.

For instance, the Rockefeller Foundation’s report published in 1985, described Sri Lanka as a country that has created an affordable healthcare system. In most districts of the country, primary healthcare facilities are within 3 kilometres for each neighbourhood. 

The ease of accessing health facilities, coupled with low cost services, has helped the country improve its public health. 

Sri Lanka’s robust healthcare infrastructure was one of the main reasons the government was able to act swiftly to respond to the first calls of Covid-19 infections. 

The government mobilised healthcare workers to  closely monitor the pandemic’s movement right after the first case was reported in the country, and they ensured that most Covid-19 suspects are traced in potential hotspots. 

“The first case came out in Sri Lanka in the last week of January, after which there were no cases till about mid-March. During that gap, the government ensured that the public health surveillance was activated to find any cases with respiratory illnesses. Once the cases were identified, we conducted the needed diagnostics so that we were able to rule out any suspected COVID-19 cases,” the WHO’s Pendse told German news organisation, DW. Source: TRT World

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