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26th March 2000

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Entries swell

A total of 175 entries have been received by the panel of judges adjudicating the Excellence in Journalism Awards organised by The Editors' Guild of Sri Lanka.

The Guild said in a release it was happy that the number of entries for the 12 categories under this scheme have increased this year from the 125 entries of last year when the inaugural scheme was launched. The Guild hopes to have this year's Awards presentation ceremony in May.


Trauma centre a crying need: specialists scarce, costs high

With a war going on and bombs exploding everywhere, trauma has become a major cause of death and morbidity in Sri Lanka, a top medical official said.

"Trauma is the commonest cause of death in the age groups 10 to 40 and is a major reason for hospital admission," says Prof. Arjuna Aluwihare, Chairman, Board of Study in Surgery, Post-Graduate Institute of Medicine.

There is no trauma centre or trauma physician in Sri Lanka, who can make an overall assessment about the patient and ensure that the relevant specialists (general surgeons, orthopaedic surgeons, neuro surgeons etc.), are called in quickly to deal with major problems. This is mainly due to the cost involved in setting up such a centre and training doctors in that field.

Mr. Claes Ortendahl, who was in Sri Lanka for the 113th annual sessions of the SLMA as the Counsellor to the World Bank said, "Sri Lanka has much to do in the area of prevention traffic control is one such area." Drunk driving etc. must be avoided, he said.

According to Prof. Aluwihare, many developed countries have accident and trauma centres around major population concentrations.

"The need for trauma physicians in Sri Lanka is high, but with most of the hospitals around the country having not more than one surgeon, it is considered a luxury. Some junior doctors who met me stressed that the Accident Service that caters to mass scale casualties should definitely have trauma surgeons. With many of the patients being young, they thought that trauma care and management was important", he said.

"Those of us with responsibility for training surgeons have considered this matter very carefully. Only about seven per cent of the population are in the vicinity of the Colombo National Hospital (NHSL). The NHSL caters to a larger proportion as the other big hospitals have only one orthopaedic surgeon each and no brain or chest surgeons. There are no other fully functional neuro-surgical units except at Kandy and even here there is only one neurosurgeon" he said.

Many hospitals with surgical facilities have only one general surgeon, who has to be on call all the time except the for alternate week ends off.

"There should be at least two surgeons wherever there is a general surgeon. Thus trauma would have continuous cover in any Base or other hospital. The young general surgeons are capable and can deal with most trauma cases well," Prof. Aluwihare said.

Places like Kandy, Matara, Galle, Anuradhapura, Jaffna, Batticaloa, Polonnaruwa, Badulla, Ratnapura and Ampara are a few of the places where there is a lot of trauma, and the need for trauma surgeons in these areas is higher than at the Accident Service, Prof. Aluwihare said.

In cases of trauma, patients have no option other than going to the nearest hospital first. Thus it is important that the patient is cared for well near where it occurs, he said.

However, Prof. Aluwihare said that NHSL, which is a tertiary referral centre, should develop excellence in this field of service. Yet, with all the specialist surgeons available, and more than one in any speciality, there is a dilemma between developing the NHSL and serving the whole country.

"Given unlimited resources this problem is easy to solve, but we are short of both equipment and manpower. In Sri Lanka there are not more than 190 surgeons in all the fields-which is about 100,000 people per surgeon. We have, at the very most, one orthopaedic surgeon for a million people (in Colombo) but in the rest of the country, there is one for about two million. The pattern is similar for the other sub-specialities" he said.

Trauma surgery which requires many more surgeons and doctors to improve it is faced with a cadre shortage and is the subject of study by the Board of Study of the PGIM.

Prof. Aluwihare said that this matter has been considered in the recent past at least twice, and a sub-committee has gone into detail in at least one instance. "It will be considered again shortly," he said.

Interestingly, several trainees who raised this matter recently had said they had no intention of staying in Colombo, having recognised the pressing needs in the outstations. Some of the doctors who spoke to The Sunday Times recognised the need for volunteers to be trained in this field.

However, Prof. Aluwihare said that there were many other things that needed urgent attention over having trauma surgeons at the Accident Service of the National Hospital.

After all, setting up a trauma centre is a question of costly health technology and an expert team.


Vanik replies

Vanik Inc. responding to our last week's page one story headlined 'Vanik Inc. in further trouble' has sent a letter, saying the story contained several inaccuracies.

The Sunday Times is carrying the clarification by Vanik Chief Executive Officer Justin Meegoda on Page 3 of the Business section.


Court restrains Vanik, FCL

By Ayesha R. Rafiq

The District Court of Colombo has ordered Vanik Incorporation and Forbes Ceylon to refrain from secondarily mortgaging a property they had mortgaged to Wijesuriya Holdings Pvt. Ltd.

The court ordered Vanik and FCL to abide by the Mortgage Bond entered into with the plaintiff company.

Wijesuriya Holdings had filed action against Vanik and Forbes Ceylon Ltd. suing them for Rs. 1,000,000 as it claimed the defendants were trying to sell a property mortgaged as collateral to the Plaintiff Wijesuriya Holdings.

Forbes Real Estate, which is a subsidiary of Vanik had last year agreed to sell a property to East West Properties, a subsidiary of Wijesuriya for over Rs. 2 million, and after negotiations were completed, FRL directed East West Properties to make the payment to Vanik.

One of the terms of the agreement entered into between Vanik and the Plaintiff was that as the Plaintiff had sold Vanik 3,000,000 debentures amounting to Rs. 3,000,000 at a net outlay of Rs. 171,151,150 at the Colombo Stock Exchange, that the sum would be considered as an interest bearing part payment made in advance against the purchase of said land owned by Forbes Real Estate Ltd.

Vanik had also assured the Plaintiff that the property in question was not subject to any mortgage except one created in favour of People's Bank and that Vanik nor FCL would not during validity of the agreement enter into mortgage or sell the land to any person under any circumstances.

The Plaintiff agreed to purchase the land when Vanik obtained releases of all encumbrances effected in favour of People's Bank. Vanik also agreed to repay a loan amounting to over Rs. 48 million granted to it by the Petitioner.

In terms of the Mortgage Bond thereafter executed, the defendants are not entitled to sell or mortgage the property without the Plaintiff's consent.

The Plaintiff's chairman Nahil Wijesuriya who is also a director of Vanik in Feb became aware that Vanik was seeking to secure credit facility from People's Bank for Rs. 200,000,000 by seeking to execute a secondary mortgage for the amount in respect of land to be sold to Petitioner, which the Petitioner said was in breach of the agreement.

The plaintiff said that after a search at the Land Registry the Plaintiff had become aware that the defendants had gone ahead with secondary mortgage, in violation of the Mortgage Bond.

The Plaintiff submitted that grave and irreparable loss would be caused to it if the defendants mortgage, donate or deal with the said property without the consent of the Plaintiff.

The Plaintiff asked for a declaration by court that the mortgaged property is pledged to the Plaintiff and the defendants are not entitled to donate, sell or mortgage the property. The Plaintiff also asked for an injunction and restraining order preventing the defendants from mortgaging the property.


Was power failure the cause of death?

No generator at De Soysa maternity hospital

By Faraza Farook

With the absence of a stand-by generator at the Intensive Care Unit of the De Soyza Hospital, one of the premier maternity hospitals in the country, there is concern about the safety of mothers who need ventilator care during times of power failure.

Except for the theatre and the baby unit, the hospital ICU doesn't have the facility of a stand-by generator. An ICU was set up in the hospital only in 1996.

"We don't have a stand-by generator and we didn't have an ICU. All the patients were treated in the wards and if they needed ventilator care, we used to transfer them to the General Hospital," a medical officer said. Later, a high-risk unit was set up which was developed into an ICU, she said.

In a recent case, where a mother on ventilator care died during a power failure, hospital officials are unable to give a clear picture of what had taken place.

Mystery surrounds thirty eight-year-old Wijeya's death who entered the De Soyza Maternity Hospital (DMH) for her fourth confinement. Wijeya who was on a ventilator after a Caesarean operation, died during a power failure. The cause of her death remains a mystery, as nobody is aware if it was due to negligence on the part of the hospital.

Wijeya's husband Kathiresan, still in shock and confusion, was ignorant of what had taken place. Being fed with varied information by the hospital staff, Kathiresan had doubts about the cause of Wijeya's death.

A mother of three, Wijeya died on February 11 after heavy bleeding. Her death coincided with the power failure that occurred at 5.15 a.m. at the Intensive Care Unit.

"There is something that I don't know, that they are not telling me. The hospital staff give me contradictory explanations and I don't know which one to buy," says a confused Kathiresan, a pavement hawker at Malwatte. Wijeya opted for the DMH because her last two children were delivered there.

I met Kathiresan at his residence at Sriwickremapura, Mattakkuliya, with his three children, Santha (10), Gayathri (7) and Anusha (2), to whom he had said that the mother had gone to the kovil.

"Her delivery date was somewhere in March but when she went to the clinic on February 9 this year, they said that she had to be admitted. I think they had made a mistake in giving the date too. Wijeya had been careful right from the beginning and refrained from taking medicine from dispensaries or any other place. She was a healthy and active person and even on the day she was admitted, she was working," Kathiresan said.

Relating his sorrowful tale, Kathiresan said, "When I went to see her in the evening the following day (10), everybody in the ward began staring at me. Then they told me to go to the ICU. There I saw Wijeya with all sorts of tubes connected to her. A doctor at the ICU then approached me and informed me of my baby's death. I cared little about that because my wife's situation was bothering me. I asked the doctor to save my wife and he assured that there was nothing to worry though she had been in a serious condition earlier and resuscitation was necessary".

"On my visit the next day, a lady doctor met me and said, 'we tried our best but she died around 5 a.m.' I didn't ask for reasons because I was upset. But a senior nurse told me that death was due to the power failure. An attendant said that Wijeya was not taken to the labour room on time, while another said it was negligence" Kathiresan said.

"I was asked to meet a doctor to learn of what happened and I met him three days later. There were two other doctors with him. 'In the ten years of my service this is the first time such a mishap has taken place,' one of the doctors said. He said there was heavy bleeding and they had to go for a Caesarean operation because the baby was dead. When I referred to the power failure they were mum and that was the end of the discussion' he said.

"When I was leaving the hospital that day, a doctor came running behind me and asked me to mention about the power failure at the coroner's inquiry. At the inquiry when the coroner asked me if I suspected foul play, I told him that I was not sure of what had taken place though I am told that there had been a power failure. When I went for the second inquiry, I was asked to hand over an envelope and a stamp to send the death certificate home. But to date, I have not received the death certificate" he said.

While the truth about Wijeya's death still hangs in the air, DMH Director Dr (Mrs) P. Pannila said that a patient can be manually ventilated for 24 hours and dismissed the story that the power failure was the a result of Wijeya's death.


Cry for peace in Jaffna

More than 5000 people participated in a peace rally in Jaffna yesterday, urging the Government to start talks with the LTTE and work out a solution to the ethnic conflict.

Organised by the Peoples Council for Peace and Goodwill, the march began from the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil and reached the Duraiappa stadium. On their way to the stadium, the peace activists handed over two memorandums to UNHCR and ICRC officials, explaining their grievances. Another petition addressed to President Kumaratunga was handed over to Jaffna's Government Agent K. Shanmuganathan.


Coverage laws for elections

By Shelani de Silva

Government is to introduce legislation to control the coverage given by the private electronic media during election campaigns, a senior minister said.

Last week the Cabinet approved the recommendations made by a four-member ministerial committee appointed by President Kumaratunga to review the situation after the private electronic media last year refused to abide by government instructions.

Minister Batty Weerakoon, a member of the committee, told The Sunday Times the private electronic media would be obliged to follow the same guidelines given to the state electronic media so that every candidate or party would be given equal time. The new laws would also limit political advertising during election campaigns.

The other members of the committee were ministers Sarath Amunugama, G. L. Peiris and D. M. Jayaratne.


Ex top brass meet tomorrow

By Hiranthi Fernando

Retired generals, admirals and air marshals from 25 countries will meet in Colombo from March 27 to 31 at a conference of The Worldwide Consultative Association of Retired Generals and Admirals (WCARGA).

'The Changing role of the Military in the Global Sphere', is the theme selected for this conference which is being hosted at the Hotel Taj Samudra, by the Association of Retired Flag Rank Officers (ARFRO) of Sri Lanka, an affiliate of the worldwide body.

Over 25 delegates from Britain, Sweden, Norway, the Russian Federation, Israel, Jordan, India, Pakistan, Cambodia and several African countries are expected to participate together with 22 participants from Sri Lanka.

A range of relevant international issues will be discussed at the meeting, which will be addressed by several eminent speakers. The launching of a new global peace award, radically different in approach to existing awards will also be taken up. At the conclusion of the discussions, the delegates will sign a Colombo Declaration.

Lt. Gen. Dennis Perera, President of ARFRO in Sri Lanka said at a press briefing that most of the participants have been commanders or top ranking officers of their nations' armed forces and are able to advise their respective governments on matters concerning security and stability.

WCARGA, which has its headquarters in London was founded in 1990 by the Late Brig. Holdenbottle, who had long experience in the UN, Lt. Gen. Perera said. Mrs. Erwen Holdenbottle, the founder's widow has been invited as the chief guest.

It was his idea to harness the wealth of experience and expertise of retired military personnel. The focus of the Association is on the prevention of armed conflict and the enhancement of stability and security through means other than military, Lt. Gen Perera said.

'How the military can be used other than in combat', features among the topics for discussion.

"This is a relevant topic today with many countries caught up in a war situation. Peace keeping requires trained people. There are many peaceful uses for the military, for instance, in development, agriculture, and training of youth. The delegates will exchange views on how the military can be used when war is over, in a global context. We are happy that many African nations will attend the conference because they have much experience in this area". Lt. Gen. Perera said.

The Colombo Declaration to be signed at the meeting will be submitted to the respective heads of state and the Secretary General of the UN, he said.


'Worm' treatment condemned

The Free Media Movement (FMM) has condemned the reference made to the Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga as 'a worm' in a letter sent to him by the Presidential Secretariat.

The letter to Mr. Wickrematunga with reference to 'a worm' was in response to a letter sent to the President inquiring her educational background. "The President is bound to provide information about her educational background if requested to do so, to the citizens of this country. This is because at the moment, this has become a controversial issue," the FMM said.

With a journalist getting such replies, the treatment meted out to ordinary citizens was questioned. The FMM said that this response smacks of authoritarian rule rather than that of a regime of representative democracy.


On The Spot

Plane horror for pregnant Shanti

By Leon Berenger

At first there was a frightening bolt of lightning, followed by a power failure and then the plane fell from the sky, and perhaps the dying thought of Shanti Ranatunga was that of her unborn child of six months she was carrying when the house crashed and grounded her into the dust.

It was raining and shortly after dusk, when Shanti returned home after a hard day's work at a nearby Garment factory, little knowing that in a few moments she was to die, crushed to a bloodied bundle under the rubble of her own house.

Not far away in the gloomy sky, two Russian pilots were also fighting for their lives and those of six others on board an ageing aircraft which had been chartered by a local company to ferry textiles from Bangkok to Colombo. The wet weather was making things more uncomfortable for those inside the aircraft.

Battling poor visibility and turbulent weather, the pilots of the Russian-built AN 12 cargo aircraft had a few minutes earlier made several aborted attempts to land at the runway of the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) just three kilometres away from the Ranatunga home.

They spoke in desperate tones to ground control at the BIA. Initial reports also suggested that the aircraft was running out of fuel and communication equipment was also on the blink, perhaps due to the turbulent weather outside.

Then it all happened. The plane vanished from the radar screens of the control tower at the BIA as it took the plunge towards the ground and later smashed into trees and several houses before landing in full impact and finally resting on the roof of the Ranatunga home.

The first to arrive at the scene were firefighters from the BIA and airforce personnel who faced the fearful and painful task of cutting open the wreckage. Luckily for at least two people inside, the job was completed in a quick and professional manner. Their lives were saved.

Of course, six others including one Sri Lankan were stone dead by the time the rescue workers entered the cabin area of the ill-fated Antonov but then there was little they could have done in a situation such as this. The pilot who was in a serious condition and the co-pilot were later removed to the nearby Negombo hospital in ambulances.

The incident in the meantime triggered off a major security alert as the security forces high command was told that an airforce plane had been brought down in a high security area and that an LTTE hand was suspected. But this time the Tigers were far from it.

Indrajith Kumarasena Sirisoma was counting the coconuts he had plucked from his garden during the day, when he heard the loud bang on his neighbour's roof.

"At first I thought that lightning had struck Ranatunge's house, but then to my disbelief there was a plane resting on the roof, part of it's wings torn apart. This was followed by an eerie silence. And then all hell broke loose.

"There were people screaming everywhere, a plane had fallen from the sky and that there were several foreigners trapped inside. I did not budge an inch, the thought of the plane exploding gave me the shivers. I moved out, only when I saw rescue workers arrive from the nearby BIA", Sirisoma a father of one daughter said.

Then the bigger problem began as thousands of curious onlookers began to crowd the area just metres away from the crash adding pressure to the rescue workers who were trying to dig out Shanti from her untimely grave.

Adding to the problem were the hundreds of policemen assigned with the task of 'crowd control' who joined the swelling ranks of onlookers, their automatic assault rifles dangling harmlessly, giving it all a carnival atmosphere.

What all these thousands of onlookers, police and everyone were foolishly ignorant of was that there was aviation fuel seeping onto the ground from the plane wreckage and the slightest spark could have ignited an inferno, where the loss of life could only be written on another day.

Joining the spectator ranks was also an influential local politico. He and his bodyguards were happily toasting on hot milk coffee and biting into beef sandwiches in a place which had turned into a near cemetery. Perhaps he needed to show his electorate that 'he was there' when it all happened.

At the end of it all the rescue workers were like grave diggers in the manner they conducted the operation to save life and limb.

There was little coordination among the groups handling the rescue charge, and even if the woman was alive she would have died under their jack boots is how Thilak Atapattu, an engineer who offered his cranes into the operation finally summed it up.


Mass picket against Eppawela

By Hiranthi Fernando

A mass picketing to demonstrate the people's opposition to the Eppawela phosphate project will take place opposite the Fort railway station on March 30 (Thursday), from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Over 100 organizations and groups are expected to join in the picketing, showing solidarity with the villagers of Eppawela, led by Mahamankadawela Piyarathana Thera, the chief priest of Galkanda Purana Vihara. The organisers have printed 5,000 posters and 30,000 leaflets and are making a concerted effort to harness massive support for the demonstration.

Rev. Piyarathana says he called for the mass protest demonstration in view of the steps taken by the Government to implement the Eppawela phosphate project, disregarding public protests against it for the last seven years.

"We understand that the President has asked the Minister of Industrial Development to sign the agreement and implement the project. The National Science Foundation has concluded that the project is highly environmentally damaging and does not serve the national interest in any manner. It is necessary to reconsider this project. Before the Presidential election in 1994, the present President gave a promise to the people of Eppawela that the Eppawela land would not be sold but developed as a national asset for the benefit of the people. This promise has been forgotten. The President also gave an undertaking to Minister Batty Weerakoon that the project will not be implemented. All sections of the population, the clergy, women's organisations, and trade unions are against this project. We will join together and demonstrate" Rev. Piyarathana said

The Ceylon Mercantile Industrial and General Workers' Union (CMU) has decided that all members in and around Colombo should stop work on March 30 at appropriate times after 12 noon so that all of them may assemble opposite the Fort railway station to join in the mass picketing.

A notice has been sent out to CMU members which states that the General Council took the decision, in pursuance of the agreement of representatives of numerous organisations including trade unions, organisations of peasants, women, members of the Buddhist clergy and various non-governmental organisations, to stage a mass demonstration in response to a request made by Mahamankadawela Piyarathan Thera, as President of the Committee for the Preservation of the Eppawela Phosphate Deposit.

The people of Eppawela say that the mining of the rock phosphate under the project by Freeport McMoran/IMC Agrico would affect nearly 12,000 people in 28 villages, who would be displaced. They say, 2602 houses would have to be demolished in addition to schools, temples and other facilities in the area. The land that their ancestors have cultivated for centuries as well as the ancient water conservation systems and part of the Mahaweli irrigation systems that provide water for their cultivation would also be destroyed.

"We think the Eppawela issue is as important as the issue of war and peace", says Rev. Yohan Devananda, an Anglican priest who is Co-Coordinator of the World Solidarity Forum in Sri Lanka, a countrywide, multi-religious group that stands for peace.

"While war and peace in Sri Lanka is a question of a civil war, the Eppawela issue is a foreign invasion. It is a threat to the lifeblood of the nation in Rajarata. The traditional link between tank, temple and land is the basis of our life and humanity. This is under threat, considering the extent of land to be given over. Minister Lakshman Jayakody has said 14 purana viharas will be under threat," he says.

"We were made to understand that the Cabinet has not given approval. Minister Batty Weerakoon has assured us that the Cabinet has agreed not to implement the project. However, the latest news we have is that the agreement is to be signed. Ministers say they cannot do anything" Rev. Devananda says.

Meanwhile Minister Batty Weerakoon said that the project cannot go ahead because the People's Alliance Executive Committee took a decision on 22nd October 1999, that they will not go ahead with it.

"I have always been against it. It should not go ahead. I will join the protest myself" Minister Weerakoon says.

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