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Saturday October 23rd, 2021

WHO Sri Lanka takes down reports after wrong referral; health minister endorses tweet

ECONOMYNEXT – The World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Sri Lanka office has taken down two reports compiled by an independent group of experts from the organization’s website, seemingly in conjunction with a tweet that said it never made recommendations on a COVID-19 lockdown — a tweet that was endorsed by Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella.

In an email response to EconomyNext, a spokesperson for WHO Sri Lanka said the two reports were removed from the website as they had been incorrectly referred to in media reports and elsewhere as ‘WHO expert reports’.

The reports in question were compiled by a group of independent technical experts convened by WHO Sri Lanka at their fifth and sixth meetings held on August 11 and 26 respectively.

In both reports, the experts had included key points discussed at the meetings including recommendations regarding lockdown measures and their impact on human life and economic activity.

In the fifth meeting’s report, the experts called for swift and stringent mobility restrictions to save some 18,000 lives by January 2022.

Related: Act now to save 18,000 lives, experts convened by WHO Sri Lanka urge

The report on the last (sixth) meeting published on August 26 said nearly 90 percent of samples sequenced in Sri Lanka had been confirmed to be the deadly delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

It also said extending Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 lockdown to September 18 and October 2 will save 7,500 and 10,000 lives respectively at an economic cost of 1.9 percent and 2.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Related: Extend lockdown to Oct 2 to save 10,000 lives at 2.2 pct GDP: experts convened by WHO Sri Lanka

Dissociating from the report, the WHO Sri Lanka said the purpose of the group was to bring together different expert perspectives, independent of affiliations, to inform the COVID-19 effort in Sri Lanka.

“Accordingly, WHO Sri Lanka facilitated these discussions with a clear disclaimer regarding its official role,” the local office of the world body told EconomyNext on Friday (03) in an email response.

“However, the [independent expert group] continues to be referred to as WHO’s Expert Group and its reports as WHO documents.  To avoid this confusion, the reports have been removed from the WHO Sri Lanka website.”

EconomyNext’s coverage of the two reports had explicitly acknowledged that the experts were independent and had been convened by WHO Sri Lanka.

After taking down the reports, WHO Sri Lanka tweeted that it has not released any recommendations on the COVID-19 quarantine curfew or issued any statement to the media on the matter.

Health Minister  Rambukwella thanked the organization “for taking swift action to stem the spread of misinformation by certain parties”.

“The spread of fake news seems more infectious than a global pandemic. I urge all stakeholders responsible for information dissemination to be responsible in their vocation,” Rambukwella tweeted.

The report showed 16 independent experts and 17 WHO officials had participated at the August 26 meeting.

The group included Dr Palitha Abeykoon, WHO Consultant and WHO Director-General’s Special Envoy for COVID-19 Preparedness and Response for South-East Asia Region, and Dr Nihal Abeysinghe, Consultant in Community Medicine and Former Chief Epidemiologist in Sri Lanka.

It also included Professor Neelika Malavige, Department head of Immunology and Molecular Medicine, Sri Jayewardenepura University as well as Prof. Malik Peiris, Chair/Professor, School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong. (Colombo/Sep03/2021)


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