Emotional Harsha firmly behind life-saving EMT service; invites Sri Lanka businesses to support
ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Deputy Foreign Minister Harsha de Silva invited businesses to help expand an island-wide paramedic service started with support from India, breaking down at nationalist opposition to an initiative to save the lives of the sick and wounded.
De Silva is driving an initiative to build a country-wide network of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) who will travel in ambulances to stabilize accident or heart-attack victims before rushing them to hospital.
India is giving a 7.5 million dollar grant to set up the services in Colombo and Galle as a first step. The training will be provided by GVK Emergency Response Institute, a non-profit organization that is operating the service in India as a public private partnership.
But nationalist elements have opposed the move saying Indians will run ambulances in Sri Lanka, despite the fact that it will save lives, especially of poor people.
The service however will run with Sri Lankan technicians and India’s GVK will only train workers and provide technical support and skills so that it can be operated independently.
"This is a meritorious act," de Silva told a ceremony where 144 trainees were given appointment letters before being sent on a 51-day training program to Hyderabad in India.
"A doctor is like a god. Someone who helps a doctor is like a person who helps a god.
"We are trying to do a good deed…," the usually fiery politician broke down, unable to continue his speech.
"This has never happened to be me before," he said, after regaining control of his emotions.
"A lot of people told many things to us," he recalled. "They said we were bringing RAW (Indian secret intelligence service). They said it was a threat to Sri Lanka. They said Indians were being brought.
"But we did not step back. We are trying to save lives. Do not pull us from our legs (Kakulen adinna epa). This is not about politics.
"I am saying they are all defeated and the people of Sri Lank has won."
De Silva said he explained the concept to anyone who was willing to listen, meeting them and also going to television talk shows. He said he also explained to the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA).
The minister recalled a personal experience where a vehicle overturned and a lady was thrown out of the vehicle while he was travelling to Kuchchaveli in the East.
A lady specialist who was travelling with his friends immediately helped her and the patient was transported in a Toyota vehicle to Kantale hospital where a single ambulance was available but the procedure was long to get it released. It was decided to take the patient – with the lady doctor carefully holding the head of the patient to protect her spine – to Dambulla hospital, where an ambulance was readied.
But the lady doctor had said the patient would suffer further damage as it lacked the facilities to keep a patient who had suffered spinal injury safe. As a result the patient was transported to Colombo in the original vehicle and she underwent an 8 hour operation.
De Silva said when he was working as a junior minister to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, India wanted to make a gift to Sri Lanka to mark the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There were many suggestions including university buildings.
But following the urging of a doctor friend as well, de Silva said he had put forward the idea of the emergency ambulance service. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe did not take more than a second to express support for the idea, he said.
De Silva said already knew that the Indian Prime Minister while he was Chief Minister of Gujarat had helped develop the emergency response service which was called 108 service in India.
De Silva said India’s 108 service operated by GVK EMRI had gained international fame and had been featured in medical journals in Harvard University and Stanford for its service to the people.
India’s 108 Service
When Prime Minister Modi, visited Sri Lanka’s parliament, he had made it point to introduce himself to the mention it, recalling his personal involvement with the 108 service in India.
"GVK EMRI has mastered this service. They have 10,000 ambulances in the India, which is the largest service in the world."
He said Prime Minister Modi had simply given the 1000 million rupees and said to ahead.
"This is a gift. There is no interest. We do not have to pay it back. There is no secret agreement as people say. This happened in March 2015.
"This is a symbol of the friendship between India and Sri Lanka. So we all have to be grateful for our friend for giving this facility."
De Silva said the origins of the GVK EMRI service lay when Sathyam Computers of India started an emergency response service as a corporate responsibility project.
When the company went into financial trouble and could no longer support it, GVK Reddy, the owner of the GVK group had come forward and given 10 million dollars to keep it going.
GVK EMRI has now grown to be a non-profit paramedic service that was saving thousands of lives.
In free countries like the US, there were paramedic services and people called 119 whenever there was a medical emergency. It could be an accident or a heart attack.
But Sri Lanka had not such service until now.
In Sri Lanka accident victims and other very sick people are taken to hospital by well-meaning three-wheeler drivers, but the journey in the cramped vehicle itself could damage the person. "If someone has a heart attack, under this service patients will be taken to hospital with emergency care being administered at home or on the way to hospital," Sri Lanka’s health services director Palitha Maheepala said.
"This will save lives. It fills gap in our health services which has been a historic need."
Appeal to Philanthropy
The first set of trainees with the ambulances that will be given by India will start in Colombo and Galle in the Western and Southern Provinces.
"There are seven other provinces remaining," he said.
He said like GVK Reddy, Sri Lanka’s businessmen could support the expansion of the service.
"I am inviting entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka, businesses in Sri Lanka to get together. This is an open invitation to join us and support it."
De Silva said Sri Lanka’s philanthropists like Charles de Soysa had given money to build hospitals in the 19th century.
De Silva said rich people could call a private hospital and get an ambulance immediately. He had an insurance policy which even covered a helicopter he said.
"But this service is for the poor people," he said. "So why are some people trying to block this?"
De Silva was now questioned by some people, about who will own the emergency response service.
"This will be 100-percent owned by Sri Lanka. Every ambulance, every bit of equipment in the ambulances will be owned by the Ministry of Health. This will be an asset of the government."
Political philosophers have said that nationalist has no logic and is simply based on irrational hate and usually a carefully re-crafted history that has no basis in fact.
They have said that nationalist hate emerged in the Europe from around 1860 onwards when the popular vote – developed in Western Europe – came to Eastern and Central Europe with the breakdown of the monarchical rule of the Austro Hungarian Empire (Sri Lanka’s Nationalism and hate is an illiberal European Import).
Nationalism and minority oppression took root especially in what came to be known as Hungary and Yugoslavia.
Under nationalism, humans were no longer valued as human beings and shortly after the turn of the next century fascist-nationalists were in control in three key linguistic nation-states that emerged, Spain (Franco), Italy (Mussolini) and Germany (Hitler), defeating liberal ideas.
Nationalism leads to minority oppression, conflicts with neighbours, internal war and misery.
Nationalist ideas have been defeated successfully in Germany and Italy since the Second World War, but is found in Hungary and former Yugoslavia where liberals are still defeated.
The ideas also spread in the British Empire and took root in Sri Lanka and Malaysia.
Sri Lanka’s rice nationalists – a peculiar nationalism not found in other fascist-nationalist states – have previously tried to impose food controls on sick people by banning bread from hospitals.