Bribery Chief tries to activate commission
By Ayesha R. Rafiq
Bribery Commission Chairman Ananda Coomaraswamy has requested the President to extend the 17th Amendment to the Constitution to the Bribery Commission Act so that the commission could function in spite of a vacancy that has remained unfilled for the past three months.

Mr. Coomaraswamy told The Sunday Times he had written to President Kumaratunga, asking her to consider applying the 17th Amendment to the Bribery Commission Act as the Commission completed its third month of having its hands tied due to a constitutional glitch.

The 17th Amendment under which come the National Police Commission, the Election Commission, the Public Service Commission, the Judicial Service Commission and the Bribery Commission, states that "the Commission shall have the power to act notwithstanding any vacancy in its membership, and no act, proceeding or decision of the Commission shall be or be deemed to be invalid by reason only of such vacancy or any defect in the appointment of a member".

As a result of the Bribery Commission having its own Act, it has been excluded from the provisions of the 17th Amendment except in the appointment of future Commissioners. There are now more than 400 new complaints received by the commission on which the commission is unable to act following the Attorney General's ruling last month that as the commission is not duly constituted due to the vacancy, it cannot initiate investigations, make arrests or search premises.

There are at least 100 indictments to be served on public servants, several of them top government officials. The cases will have to wait until the commission is duly constituted. Following the death of commissioner T.N. Abeyawira in February this year, the Constitutional Council, with whom the responsibility lies to make appointments to top government posts, has yet failed to fill the vacancy created by Mr. Abeyawira's death.

According to the Bribery Commission Act, the vacancy can only be filled by a retired Supreme Court or Appeal Court judge. The Council, however, claims that there is a dearth of retired justices, as several of them are already serving on other commissions or too infirm to accept such a post.

Health officials to get tough on battle against dengue
With the onset of the rainy season, health officials are busy carrying out campaigns to battle the dreaded dengue disease. Clean-up campaigns and public awareness programmes are the two main areas that are being focused on by provincial health departments and the Municipal Councils. Officials say the reported cases so far have been minimal, but they have begun the control campaigns to prevent it from reaching epidemic proportions. "We are taking precautions for a pending outbreak," Dr. Kulatillake of the Epidemiological Unit said.

A few cases have been reported from the districts of Galle and Matale. In Hambantota, the Municipal Council and the provincial health office are carrying out a coordinated dengue control programme while a Public Health Inspector said clean up campaigns and fogging is being conducted in dengue prone areas.

In Colombo too some dengue cases have been reported although it hasn't reached high numbers. Since the Sinhala, and Tamil New Year 16 cases had been reported in the city. Most of the cases had been from Colombo East and West.

A Municipal Council officer said the Colombo Mayor will soon be launching a house- to- house inspection in 35 wards. The Public Health Department of the Colombo Municipality has identified the areas based on statistics of dengue cases reported last year. The inspection is to be carried out with the assistance of the Boy Scouts Association and the Rotary Club and environmentally friendly houses will be given a sticker.

Meanwhile Medical Officers are to visit schools over the next two weeks to inspect the environment. An official said this time round schools that do not meet the standards would be prosecuted without prior notice. He said in previous years the practice was to issue warning notices prior to any legal action.

Patients to form national body
The Action Committee on Justice for Patients (ACJP), which comprises several groups working for the rights and welfare of patients, will meet today to take steps to form a National Association of Patients.

A spokesman said that while doctors, nurses and others in the health sector have powerful unions working for them, patients had no such support and such a national association was an urgent need. The meeting will be held at 4 p.m. today at the Community Centre, No 15 Quarry Road, Dehiwela.

The objectives of the association would include, empowerment of patients -- giving them awareness and insight on how to live a healthy life under the guidance of a family physician; working out a patients' charter and a health service model where top priority is given to the welfare of the patients; providing quality drugs at affordable prices, so that any patient who needs a particular drug could obtain it irrespective of whether he or she could afford it; legal aid with medical advice to be given to patients in cases where there is substantial evidence of medical negligence.

SARS panic brings death and heartache
By Faraza Farook
The recent SARS outbreak in South East Asia and Toronto sent panic waves not just in those countries, but also in Sri Lanka where cases of pneumonia and cardiac problems have reportedly been misdiagnosed as the dreaded virus.

In a tragic case, 54-year-old Kumari Somabandu died of myocardial infarction while she was being transferred from the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital to the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) in Colombo after being diagnosed or misdiagnosed as having SARS.

"We have no clue as to how she was diagnosed to be suffering from SARS as she was admitted after suffering a heart attack," Kumari's husband M.D. Somabandu said. Mr. Somabandu who is contemplating legal action charged that the hospital was at fault for the misdiagnosis and was responsible for his wife's death. "There's one hundred per cent negligence on the part of the hospital staff," he said.

Kumari, a chief librarian at a library in Kurunegala returned from Saudi Arabia on April 22 after a four-month holiday with her husband. Expecting the arrival of her 24-year-old daughter from the U.S. after two years, Kumari returned from Saudi Arabia a week earlier than scheduled to make preparations for her daughter's return.

On April 24, Kumari suffered a mild heart attack for the first time and was rushed to the Cooperative hospital in Kurunegala. Doctors there, after studying her E.C.G. had advised that she be transferred to the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital as her condition seemed serious.

On admission to the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital she was wheeled into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and later transferred to the Cardiac Care Unit (CCU). The following day, when Kumari's brother-in-law went to the hospital around 1 p.m., the patient was missing. On inquiry, he had been told that she was suspected to be suffering from SARS and was being transferred to the IDH.

Mr. Somabandu said his wife had been transferred despite her pleas to wait till her brother-in-law came. Kumari reportedly suffered a myocardial infarction and died in the ambulance while being transferred. Since the Cardiologist had put down the words 'SARS' on her Bed Head Ticket (BHT), Kumari's family had trouble in getting her body released too. "I returned from Saudi Arabia on April 27, and we got the body released only on the 28th. The Medical Faculty refused to release the body, because of this reference to SARS," Mr. Somabandu said.

He lamented that if not for the erroneous diagnosis, Kumari would still be alive. He also said that the incident had prompted some people to keep away from coming home.

While the Health Ministry is investigating the incident, the Hospital defended the Cardiologist stating that there was 'no clear cut criteria' to identify a SARS patient and the doctor, although making a faulty diagnosis, did it in the best interest of the patient.

In a similar case of misdiagnosis at the Peradeniya Hospital, hospital staff were protesting over the admission of a patient who was later diagnosed as suffering from pneumonia.

Meanwhile the Health Ministry last week stepped up measures to prevent any possible outbreak in Sri Lanka. So far, no cases have been reported although patients with respiratory symptoms are monitored as a precautionary measure. The Health Ministry also gazetted new regulations to enable health authorities to quarantine suspected SARS cases.

Surveillance at airports and seaports has been stepped up with all passengers expected to fill a declaration form and submit it to the immigration desk. In-flight announcements are also made in this regard. A Medical Officer of Health is supposed to follow up on the information given in the form by visiting the patient's residence to check on any development of disease symptoms.

Airport authorities are also making arrangements to install a thermal scanning equipment to detect passengers with fever. Adequate protective gear is also being made available for all hospital staff while the State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) has been requested to make available gauze masks at Osu-Sala franchise outlets for the general public. All major hospitals in the country have been advised to have isolation rooms with intensive care facilities.

SARS first broke out in China in March and has now spread to other countries in the region. Nearly 6000 people have been infected and more than 390 have died.
The Health Ministers of the SAARC countries met in Male last Sunday to discuss ways to combat the deadly disease.

The symptoms of the disease include fever, chills, headache, body aches and pains, nasal congestion, nausea/vomiting and shortness of breath. Sore throat, sneezing, fatigue, dizziness and cough can also be present.

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