3rd February 2002

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Medical ethics: who's biting whom?

Last weekend's trip to Bangkok by more than twenty medical specialists for a seminar sponsored by a drug company to promote a new drug for children, has provoked controversy in medical circles. 

Professor Krishantha Weerasuriya, professor of pharmacology at the Colombo University's medical faculty said this was standard industry practice and had been condemned everywhere. He said one needed to ask the question whether it would be more useful for 20 specialists to travel abroad to attend a conference addressed by four or five speakers than for the company concerned to bring down the speakers to Sri Lanka.

A visit to Bangkok to learn about drugs would certainly be in breach of section 23 of WHO's Ethical Criteria for Medical Drugs Promotion, Professor Weerasuriya said.

The Royal College of Physicians says that any entertainment would be measured by the fact "Would the doctor pay for it, if it was not offered by the pharmaceutical companies? So, would the doctors have paid for the trip to Bangkok if the company did not pay for it, the professor asked.

"Sadly the effect of all this would be on the children of Sri Lanka and their parents. They will pay for a drug which may not be necessary because the doctors will be influenced." he said. When the Independent Medical Practitioners Association held its annual meeting, sponsored by a drug company, at a five star hotel last week The Sunday Times report on the ethics of the exercise was taken up. 

An eminent physician who addressed the gathering said he saw the disclosure largely as a case of 'dog biting dog.' But other doctors present on the occasion said that instead of looking at who gave the information to the media, the medical profession should re-examine the ethical question of allowing drug companies to sponsor trips or seminars intended to promote their drugs. 

Meanwhile a student action group of the Colombo medical faculty is intensifying its campaign for rational drug use and empowerment of patients.

As part of this campaign, a special lecture will be given on February 6, in the main hall of the medical faculty on the topic ' Dilemma of drug users - empowerment or dependence' will be given by Dr. Joel Fernando, a former member of the Presidential Task Force on Health. 

Bitter clash over PoWs

By Shelani Perera
The two groups representing armed personnel missing in action will begin individual campaigns to seek the freedom of ten LTTE PoWs from government custody as a reciprocal gesture for the release of the ten PoWs by the LTTE.

The Association for Servicemen Missing in Action (ASMA) and the Association of War Affected Women (AWAW), both working for the same cause, reportedly clashed last week when the LTTE handed over ten PoWs to the government. 

The ASMA backed by Deshamanya Lalith Kotelawela and the AWAW backed by the Norwegian government levelled allegations at each other to take credit for the release of the PoWs.

It was alleged that when the two groups visited the uncleared area they had demanded that the ten PoWs be handed over to them.

While the ASMA claimed that the LTTE handed over the PoWs to them, the AWAW claimed that they were handed over to the government.

However both organisations last week began intense campaigns for the release of LTTE PoWs in government custody.

President of the ASMA E. P. Nanayakara told The Sunday Times an appointment would be sought with the Prime Minister.

"We have already met government officials to discuss this matter. We are positive that an appointment with the PM will also be granted. I made a promise to Thamil Selvam that I will take this matter up with the government and release at least ten PoWs. It is only if the government releases the PoWs that we will have a chance of seeing the other seven PoWs in LTTE custody," he said.

Meanwhile, chairperson of the AWAW Visaka Dharmadasa told The Sunday Times the government had to take this opportunity and act positively.

"We have already met the Premier's secretary and we are also meeting the Army Commander next week. The AWAW will also meet the Norwegian Ambassador. Our campaign will continue until the government gives a positive response," Ms. Dharmadasa said.

Sugar mills to provide much-needed energy

By M. Ismeth
The untapped resources of the sugar mills capable of supplying power to the national grid has yet to be explored, though successive governments had failed to realise its enormous value even after four decades since its inception in the early '60s.

In a feasibility report titled "Proposals for electrical power generation through sugar mills", handed over recently to Power and Energy Minister Karu Jayasuriya, director and chief executive of the Sugarcane Research Institute N. Dharmawardene said the ability of a sugar factory to produce its own surplus electricity from bagasse made sugar industry an ideal candidate in catalyzing development of rural areas far away from cities.

About 450 Kwh of electricity could be produced by one ton of mill run bagasse. Drying the bagasse using flue gas from the factory itself could increase its calorific value, the report said. Sugar factories produced nearly four to five tons of surplus of bagasse for every 100 tons of canes milled. Thus a sugar factory of 4000 (tons of cane crushed a day) would have nearly 1600 tons surplus bagasse, which was equivalent to 720,000 Kwh electricity a day, it said. The amount of power produced by a sugar mill was well in excess of the factory requirement.The report said a modern day sugar factory would produce about 50 Kwh surplus electricity per ton of canes milled.

However, this was influenced by the condition of the factory, cane variety, processing method, and thermal efficiency. The first requirement for generation of power at a sugar factory was a fairly efficient factory or moderate to large capacity and having medium to high pressure boilers. 

Iqbal Athas intimidation case

Judgment put off for February 7

Thugs at work

Thugs tried to prevent photographers from taking pictures outside the High Court No. 4 in Hulftsdorp on Friday.

One of the thugs walked up to a Wijeya Group photographer and warned him not to take pictures. Others tried to form human walls to obstruct photographs being taken.

The photographers have brought this to the attention of the Court Registrar. 

By Laila Nasry
The judgment in the case against two Air Force officers who allegedly threatened, harassed and intimidated The Sunday Times Consultant Editor Iqbal Athas and his family to be delivered on Friday was put off for a later date. 

Colombo High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya said the judgment was not ready and re-fixed the date for February 7.

On the previous occasion the order was reserved by the Judge subsequent to the trial coming to a close. 

On that occasion, the Judge raised a query as to whether the accused had furnished bail. 

The counsel for the defence replied in the affirmative adding that the accused were still officers of the Air Force but currently on suspension. 

Two Air Force officers Squadron Leader H. M. Rukman the bodyguard of a former Air Force Commander and Squadron Leader D. S. P. Kannangara the officer in charge of the Special Air Borne Force had been indicted in the Colombo High Court for committing criminal trespass, intimidation and unlawful entry with weapons into Mr. Athas's home on February 12, 1998.

In the course of the evidence led by state counsel P. P. Surasena it was submitted that three armed intruders had forcibly entered Mr. Athas's home on the pretext of trying to get an article published in the newspaper. 

Having gained entrance the intruders had proceeded upstairs, broken open the door and stormed into the room of Mr. Athas whilst he was watching television with his wife. 

The first accused had then held a pistol to Mr. Athas' head and had asked him 'ko badu?' 'Umbala badu vikunanawaneda?' Therafter he had gestured to Mr. Athas to walk out of the room. Mr. Athas saw two other intruders proceeding towards his daughter's room also with pistols in their hands and yelled out in fear of his daughter's safety. 

At this point the first accused had threatened to shoot him and had ordered the rest to lock up the servant girl and his daughter. However his daughter had come running towards him crying and hung on to him. 

Later Mr. Athas was led downstairs by the intruders where they were joined by a fifth intruder who asked for his name, where he worked. 

Then he stated there had been a mistake, they had come to the wrong place and proposed to leave. 

At the identification parade held at the Gangodawila Magistrate's Court Mr. Athas identified the first accused. Ms. Anoma Athas identified the second accused at the second identification parade also held at the Gangodawila Magistrate's Court. 

The sole defence witness was Squadron Leader Eric Amaranath Weerasinghe of the Sri Lanka Air Force.

The defence took up the position that the identity of the accused had not been established beyond reasonable doubt. 

They further submitted that taking into consideration the events of February 12, the identification parade and the evidence given by the witnesses, there remained serious doubts pertaining to the entire inquiry, from the initial investigation to the identification parade, as it was not conducted with fairness. 

Daya Perera PC with T. G. Gunesekera watched the interests of Iqbal and Anoma Athas. Senior State Counsel P. P. Surasena and Amendra Seneviratne appeared for the prosecution. Srinath Perera PC with Christopher de Alwis appeared for the first accused while Anil Silva represented the second accused. 

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