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Sunday October 2nd, 2022

Sri Lanka’s govt medical officers seek clarification on IHME projections: Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) has written to the Washington-based Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) seeking clarification on its alarming projections for Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 deaths, a top minister said.

The GMOA has questioned the basis on which the IHME had arrived at its “speculation”, co-cabinet spokesman Minister Udaya Gammanpila said this morning (11).

IHME, an idependent global health research centre at the University of Washington, had predicted that total COVID-19 deaths in Sri Lanka could reach 20,876 by September 1 this year. The institute gave separate projections adjusted for mask compliance and physical distancing, though no adjustments seemed to have been made for contact tracing, isolation and institutional treatment.

In a worst case scenario, IHME projections showed, fatalities could increase up to 30,132 by September if the current positivity rate and mortality rate continue.

The institute predicts the daily number of death will also increase to 224 by the end of June, 2021, before showing a decline from July onwards.

Sri Lanka will also need 17,045 more beds and state health sector should increase intensive care unit (ICU) capacity to 3,450, the data suggests.

Sri Lanka currently has 147 ICU beds in hospitals and intermediate facilities dedicated to COVID-19 treatment.

As per IHME projections, Sri Lanka’s daily cases at current rates will likely increase up to 50,495 by next month and will continue at that rate for two months before declining with the number of daily fatalities.

The head of the health ministry’s Disaster Preparedness and Response Division Dr Hemanth Hearth told reporters yesterday that such a situation will arise only if preventative measures aren’t taken.

He said similar projections were made during Sri Lanka’s first wave of COVID-19, but timely action on the part of health authorities prevented the predicted outcomes.

“These types of predictions were made earlier as well. When something like that comes, we work to prevent it. This time also will be the same,” said Herath.

“Due to the behaviour of the public, a surge in daily cases was observed over the last few days,” he added.

Herath’s comment reflects an alleged tendency on the part of the government to shift the blame to the public, which experts have said repeatedly that the authorities made a mistake in reducing daily PCR testing.

“We take every measure to make sure we don’t reach those numbers,” said Herath.

Director, Allergy Immunology and Cell Biology Unit of the University of Sri Jayawardenepura, Dr Chandima Jeewandara too said the general public should support the authorities in preventing the grim outcome predicted by the IHME.

Though he echoed Herath’s sentiment that similar projections had been successfully handled in the past, Jeewandara conceded that IHME projections are accurate “most of the time”.

“If says if we continue to record 2,000 plus cases a day it will come to a situation like that, and the predictions made by this institute are accurate most of the time,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s vaccine rollout has resumed after a hiatus, albeit slowly. Some 600,000 people are still awaiting their second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Minister Gammanpila said today that Sri Lanka is in talks with Indonesia and some African countries to secure more AstraZeneca from those countries’ excess stocks, as India has temporarily halted exporting its vaccines. Sri Lanka initially acquired AstraZeneca from India and through the COVAX facility. Over 900,000 people have received their first dose so far.

Gammanpila further said that following discussions between the president and the World Health Organisation (WHO) chief, Sri Lankan can expect more doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the coming month.

Sri Lanka is also looking at a mix-and-match approach for those still awaiting their second dose. Doctors will take a final decision on this, the minister said. (Colombo/May11/2021)

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