07th December 1997


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Cooray to return to active politics

By Roshan Peiris

Former UNP stron–gman Sirisena Cooray will return to Sri Lanka in January to re-enter politics and revitalise the UNP, sources close to him said.

They said. Mr. Cooray was determined to enter politics and contribute whatever knowledge and expertise to help strengthen the UNP.

They said Mr. Cooray would not stake a claim for the party leadership but would do all what he could to help its position. A Presidential Commission which probed the deaths of former Minister Lalith Athulathmudali this year recommended that Mr. Cooray, who is holidaying in Australia with his son be stripped of his civic rights.

But Mr. Cooray’s lawyers told ‘The Sunday Times’ they were awaiting the receipt of the full report of the Presidential Commission to act on the issue .

No prescription for death medicine

Tough action urged against errant pharmacy owners

By Arshad M. Hadjirin and Chamintha Thilakaratna

With just 2,500 people qualified to run about 50,000 pharmacies in Sri Lanka, many drug outlets employ unqualified persons and sell drugs that are not expected to be dispensed without medical prescriptions, over the counter, a Sunday Times investigation has revealed.

The lack of responsibility on the part of the pharmacy owners and virtual inaction from the authorities to check on them, have led to serious consequences and in some instances, death.

“I’d want to kill her off by giving an overdose of sedatives,” 16-year-old Damayanthi (not her real name), told a pharmacist in Kelaniya. My pet was hit by a moving vehicle and is struggling between life and death, I need some sedatives to help her die in peace,” she pleaded.

Moved by her plea, the pharmacist gave more than what she needed. But little did the salesman realise that his sympathetic response would help Damayanthi to attempt to take her own life. But she was saved in the nick of time by her relatives.

Unfortunately in another incident last week, a nurse attached to the Lady Ridgeway Hospital died in Galle, after consuming a large amount of chloroquin. The drug, used for Malaria was issued by a salesman at a pharmacy, who convinced the victim that it would abort her pregnancy.

Medical experts told us that drugs could not be sold over the counter under any circumstances without a prescription from a qualified medical officer but of the eight pharmacies we visited at random, only two refused to sell drugs without a prescription.

Our first stop was at a large pharmacy in the city centre. After taking our place in a long queue we asked for a steroid named amytriphaline, a drug if taken without a doctor’s direction could cause serious side effects.

On refusal by the sales staff, we simply had to say that we do athletics. “OK, how many do you need?” was what he asked next.

We then visited a small pharmacy at Kirullapone. We asked for some Erithromycine, a strong antibiotic, saying that they were for our little sister who was suffering from whooping cough. This time there was no hesitation at all. Going one step ahead the woman at the counter said, “actually you must buy twenty of these tablets and give two tablets after meals.”

Having gone to two pharmacies where valium, a powerful sedative, was not available, we arrived at a pharmacy next to a clinic on Havelock Road. Patients from the clinic were crowding in. Without questioning for reasons or asking for the prescription, a man at the counter handed over the drug.

We also visited a popular supermarket which runs a pharmacy. The salesgirls were willing even to sell soluble insulin without a prescription. We told them that we couldn’t decide on the brand name and left the place.

Doctors and pharmacists, The Sunday Times spoke to admitted that antibiotics, sedatives, vitamins, balms and sometimes even hormones were sold without prescriptions by many pharmacies.

Many people go to pharmacies without prescriptions because they believe a particular drug which has healed them before could also be a cure on another ocassion. Doctors have warned of this self-medication, pointing to their dangerous and harmful consequences.

A salesman at a pharmacy in a Colombo hospital told us, though they were not allowed to sell any drugs without prescriptions, mild medicines such as aspirin, paracetemol that come under different brand names were sold over the counter. But he admitted that if a known person turned up, they would sell medicines without asking for prescriptions.

National Hospital Director Dr. Terence de Silva focused our attention to another group of drug-dealers-the hawkers. They relate the miraculous properties of the medicine they sell to convince the on-lookers.

Stating that a survey done by him had shown that a patient would change his doctor or the medicine once in every five days if signs of recovery are not there, Dr. De Silva said, except for over-the-counter drugs such as paracetemol, aspirin, and some digestive, most other drugs had to be bought with a prescription.

Sarath Kusumsiri, Secretary of the Society of Government Pharmacists said, the law required that a pharmacy should have a qualified pharmacist at any given time.

“Sri Lanka has about 50,000 pharmacies. It is doubtful, therefore, whether the 2500 odd qualified pharmacists could man all of them and spend a reasonable amount of time at each pharmacy - leave aside the fact that his presence is needed throughout the time the shop is open,” Mr. Kusumsiri said.

Government pharmacist Kumarasiri said drugs such as Amytriptalyne which we bought over the counter without much difficulty, if mixed with brown sugar, could be turned into pure heroin. He claimed that this drug was being sold by some pharmacies to underworld heroin dealers.

“The situation is grave,” Government Medical Officers Association President Dr. Ananda Samarasekera said.

He said he believed most pharmacies did not have a qualified pharmacist, a fact that we saw in most pharmacies we visited.

Dr. Samarasekera called on authorities to act on this immediately as in time to come the situation could worsen and one might feel out of the ordinary to buy medicines on prescriptions.

New broadcasting law to be framed

The govt. has at long last named 23 members to the Parliamentary Select Committee to frame a new Broadcasting Authority Law and to examine other reforms relating to the media.

Speaker K. B. Ratnayake said the PSC would be chaired by Media Minister Media Mangala Samaraweera.

The PSC is expected to consider the recommendations made by five committees on media reforms which were appointed by the previous Media Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake and which have recommended far reaching reforms.

Several Non Government Organisations (NGOs) including the Law and Society Trust and the Centre for Policy Alternatives have established study groups consisting of representatives of media, lawyers and Human Rights Organisations to examine all aspects for the law relating to the media.

The PSC is also expected to call for representations from the public.

The objective of the exercise is to develop a bipartisan approach to media reforms and frame objective standards and procedures for the licensing of radio and television stations.

The 23 member PSC includes Minister Mangala Samaraweera, A. C. S. Hameed, Tyronne Fernando, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Dr. Sarath Amunugama, Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam and Dharmalingam Siddharthan.

Earlier Supreme Court ruled that the proposed Broadcasting Authority Bill was inconsistent with the Constitution and would need a two thirds majority in parliament in addition to approval by the people at a referendum if it were to become law.

The historic May 6 verdict on 16 petitions filed by several political parties and other groups was given by a Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice G. P. S. de Silva and Justices A. R. B. Amarasinghe and P. Ramanathan.

The Supreme Court decision was then formally announced in Parliament by the Speaker and a jubilant opposition celebrated by making a bonfire of the widely criticized bill outside the House and demanded the immediate resignation of the Media Minister.

Not the time for local polls: Tamil Congress

By S.S. Selvanayagam

The All Ceylon Tamil Congress (TC) reacting to the government’s bid to hold local government elections in the Jaffna peninsula and the Pradeshiya Sabha in the Kilinochchi District has said the situation in the north is still not conducive to hold elections.

Pointing out that the bulk of the voters were in the Wanni, working committee member A. Vinayagamoorthy said the situation in these areas was not conducive to conduct fair and free elections as a large number of voters are still displaced.

Nominations will be received from December 16 to 22 and the elections will be held in February.

TULF scouts Jaffna ahead of polls

A TULF delegation headed by former Parliamentarian Mavai Senathirajah yesterday flew to Jaffna to study the ground situation and to strengthen the party ahead of the local election.

The team comprising N. Raviraj and Pon. Sivapalan will mobilise the party and activate the rank and file according to TULF sources.

Pon. Sivapalan is tipped as TULF candidate for the Jaffna Municipal Council mayoralty, political analysts claim. But TULF sources said the visit has been planned long ago it has nothing to do with the elections.

Tamil political sources said that this is probably the first visit by a TULF delegation to Jaffna after a prolonged 14 years period of exile since 1983, though TULF candidates contested the 1989 parliamentary elections in the Jaffna peninsula when the IPKF was in Sri Lanka.

Although TULF veteran parliamentarians, V. Dharmalingam and V. Alalasundaram, stayed back in Jaffna having kept off active politics even after 1983, they were assassinated by political rivals, probably by one of the militant groups in 1985, political sources said.

Enter Foreign Ministry on web

By Imran Vittachi

The Foreign Ministry, in a bid to project a more complete and positive image of the nation in cyberspace, yesterday launched its Sri Lanka Web Window.

The new web site, which can be accessed via the on-line call letters “”, aims to give users of the Internet comprehensive, timely, and accurate information on Sri Lanka-related matters, according to a spokesman for the ministry.

“The launching of the ‘Sri Lanka Web Window’ will fulfill a long felt need for an integrated projection of Sri Lanka on the World Wide Web,” he said. “It will also help in countering anti-Sri Lanka propaganda, by enabling Internet surfers worldwide to have easy access through a single window to authentic news and information on Sri Lanka.”

The web site, designed by Colombo University’s Institute of Computer Technology (ICT) with backing from other government agencies, will present this news and information under generic headings, he added.

Net surfers could also browse over the official line, plus daily and weekly accounts from government-run and anti-government media.

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