Hapless PHIs fight losing battle

National Dengue Control Programme

The killing of a Public Health Inspector (PHI) and a series of reported assaults and threats have brought into focus the safety of these officers and the reasons behind such attacks.

As the dengue death toll rose to 85, with 17,000 cases reported during the first seven months of this year, the Health Ministry declared a National Dengue Control month from June 25 to July 24. Police and Health officials launched comprehensive inspection programmes, issuing notices and warnings and conducting litigation against those culpable.

Policemen inspect the pestle that was used in the tragic death of PHI Mohammed Faleel. Pic by K.D. Wijepala

Policemen inspect the pestle that was used in the tragic death of PHI Mohammed Faleel. Pic by K.D. Wijepala

According to the PHIs’ Association, 4,456 cases have been filed during the first six months of this year, with a total fine of Rs 15,141,000 collected. While PHI’s take action under the Mosquito Breeding Prevention Act, the police take action separately under the Penal Code.
PHI Mohammed Faleel, 52, of the Thampalakamam PH office in Saliyapura, Kantale, was the unfortunate fatality of an individual’s anger. The father of five from Kinniya, Trincomalee, had been a PHI for 28 years.

On the day of the incident (July 9), the distribution of 2,000 mosquito nets to residents of Saliyapura, Mullipotana and Perakum Place began, as part of the dengue control programme.Faleel’s colleague, PHI Saman Jayasinghe said the incident took place around 9.30 a.m., when Faleel decided to inspect the remaining houses in Perakum Place.

Along with four other minor staff, he had visited the house of the 34-year-old suspect, who had chased them away brandishing a pestle and shouting abuse. The officers had made a hasty retreat.

However on hearing footsteps behind them, they turned around to see the suspect coming after them still armed with the pestle. While the subordinates were quick to take to their heels, Faleel was slow to react, and the suspect repeatedly clubbed him on his head.
Faleel was rushed to the Kantale Hospital but was declared dead on admission. The magisterial inquiry was conducted by Kantale Chief Magistrate Yvonne Fernando at the Kantale Hospital, and she ordered the victim’s burial consequent to a detailed post mortem report to courts.
According to Kantale Hospital Judicial Medical Officer Dr P. Athauda, the post mortem revealed that the victim had sustained serious injuries to the skull and brain.

“The residents of Saliyapura are in mourning, as he was a frequent visitor to the neighbourhood, and had a close relationship with the people, helping them in numerous ways,” PHI Jayasinghe said.

The suspect was later arrested by the Kantale police. According to police, he had been a soldier and later, a member of the civil defence force, from which he was discharged. The suspect had also received psychiatric treatment and was separated from his spouse.
Police spokesman SP Ajith Rohana said investigations were still ongoing, while the suspect was to undergo a medical check.
On July 8, in Negombo, a group comprising a PHI, a Katana Pradeshiya Sabha officer, Police and Army personnel were on a round of inspections on Kimbulapitiya Road when they were confronted by an angry resident who threatened them with a sword. The man was arrested and produced in courts.

A similar incident took place in Kadugannawa this week, after a PHI from the Kadugannawa Municipal Council was threatened, when he tried to inspect a poultry stall, after complaints that the place was breeding mosquitoes. The shop owner was arrested and remanded till July 18, by Kandy Chief Magistrate Ravindra Premaratne. Another incident took place in Galgamuwa, in the Kurunegala district, where a group of businessmen supported by area politicians, went on strike against PHIs inspecting their premises. The PHIs were also at the receiving end of verbal abuse..

In another incident, a PHI was assaulted by residents of Homagama.Sri Lanka PHIs’ Association President Upul Rohana told the Sunday Times that the PHIs were concerned about their safety, especially during dengue inspection programmes. “Only under the Food Act, there is a clause in which PHIs can take action for obstructing their work. There is no such provision in the Mosquito Breeding Prevention Act,” he said.
Mr. Rohana said that the involvement of police and military personnel, and strict legal action by police, has created some displeasure among the public.

“Police and military support are essential to provide security and warn the public. But the police environment unit can take legal action against the presence of litter outside a residence, under Section 262 of the Penal Code,” he said.
He said that due to the shortage of officers the dengue eradication month was a failure.
“With the present cadre, we can manage a dengue eradication week, but a month is too long,” he said. Though the ratio is 1:10,000, there are only about 1,500 PHIs islandwide. Apart from dengue programmes, there are PHIs’ programmes on non-communicable diseases, waste management, issuing of trade and building licences, water sanitation, vector and rabies control, food safety, sanitation in medical institutions, school medical clinics, nutrition checks, etc.

“Though there have been complaints against PHIs in the past, the younger generation of PHIs are a very enthusiastic lot, resulting in less corruption,” he said.This week, Colombo Additional Magistrate Prasanna Alwis advised police to avoid arresting low-income people and fining them but instead request them to support mechanisms to control the mosquito menace.
The Magistrate’s directive was to the Mulleriyawa police when five residents were produced before courts for unclean environments, and fined Rs. 500 each.

Colombo Municipal Council’s Chief PHI W.G. Karunatilake said that the public are confused when the PHIs take action under the Mosquito Breeding Prevention Act and the police act under the Penal Code.“The police are not only looking for mosquito breeding sites, but also for polluted environments.

If the environment is not clean and has potential breeding sites, the police can take legal action under the penal code. But a PHI cannot file legal action at once. First the resident should be warned, then a notice issued, and after two weeks, if the resident has not adhered to the warning, legal action is taken, “he said.Following the death of PHI Faleel, and a number of other assaults Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena has said discussions will be held with the Defence Ministry to provide police and military personnel escorts on such inspections and raids.

UC member remanded for rumpus over rubbish

A Peliyagoda Urban Council member was remanded yesterday for disrupting a meeting called to discuss the disposal of garbage in the area, Police said.

The suspect Hasitha Madawala was remanded until tomorrow.At an earlier meeting a location to dump garbage had been discussed and garbage was being disposed there in spite of protests from villagers.On Friday Mr. Madawala too had raised objections about the location thus leading to his arrest.

Share This Post

comments powered by Disqus

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.