By Dr. J. Enkhsaikhan

Note: Dr. J. Enkhsaikhan is Chairman of Blue Banner NGO and former Permanent Representative of Mongolia to the United Nations in New York and Vienna. This article comes in run-up to the UN General Assembly's two sessions – scheduled for March 27-31 and June 15-July 7 – to negotiate “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.

ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia (IDN-INPS) - Some believe that those that do not possess nuclear weapons have no basis to demand that those that do possess alter their nuclear policies. However, as the three recent international conferences on humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons vividly demonstrated yet again, the detonation of a nuclear weapon, intentionally or otherwise, will have catastrophic consequences with far-reaching climatic, genetic and other devastating effects.

- Photo: 2021

Donating for COVID-Relief — Mixed-Up Governmental Priorities

Viewpoint by Sunil J. Wimalawansa *

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought “a tsunami of suffering”, taken over 3.4 million lives and 500 million jobs, while wiping trillions of dollars from global balance sheets, Secretary-General António Guterres told business last May, for equitable vaccine distribution worldwide.

NEW JERSEY, USA (IDN) — While the COVID-situations are significantly improving in the USA, UK, and most European nations, the situation in Asian countries such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, and India worsened. Flawed policy decisions and fraud considerably worsen the situation.

There were several opportunities to take affirmative steps to prevent the ongoing community spread of COVID-19 and deaths, but governments took a considerable delay implementing the right decisions.

With great passion and gratitude, expatriates responding to the needs of people that are affected by COVID. Many donating funds or equipment to health departments and the ministry, expecting fair and efficient utilisation to save lives.

Donors are, however, cautious, as some previous donations failed to reach people who are in need. While philanthropies are eager to donate, they need to be mindful of better ways to help their country, ensuring donations will benefit people in need.

Mixing up priorities

Recently, both Indian and Sri Lankan governments miss-prioritised multiple occasions. Last year, they preoccupied with strengthening their power: meanwhile, the ruling party and the opposition battled for political points. The government enacted laws that have nothing to do with the pandemic or remotely needed for the country.

Moreover, it recently allocated over 15 billion rupees for non-health purposes, despite the dire situation in Sri Lanka, while all beds allocated to manage persons with COVID been full. Such actions are unwise, incomprehensible, and unacceptable.

Approximately a month ago, a cabinet minister announced that the government has more than adequate funds to manage COVID. The minister stated the government is not asking the public to pay and questioned why people collect funds. Based on such comments, many donor groups have opted not to send funds to Sri Lanka.

In contrast, hospital staff across the country continue to request equipment. These ministers may not have experience in donating, but individuals and groups contributing want to help and express gratitude to the country.

Examples of recent inappropriate fund allocation include the importation of 455 luxury cars at the cost of 3.6 billion rupees for the ruling party members (or for all) members of the parliament, bringing in helicopters, bidding for the 2028 Olympics, constructing 500 gyms and new highways, etc.

Can any of these justify when the hospital ICU beds are overloaded and the mortality rate rises? Instead, funds should be directed for lifesaving supplies and facilities, vaccines, supply chains, and improved availability and affordability of essential items, like food and medicine.

Funds are limited. During the pandemic, the government should not spend on non-essential and luxury items that deprive essential items for people and worsened food insecurity. Consequently, the cost-of-living sky-rocketed.

Even when food is available, people will not afford them now, resulting in starvation. Besides, it adds to the worsening foreign debt crisis, when the government is on the verge of defaulting millions of US dollars of interest payment of loans and needing borough funds from neighbouring countries and printing money to pay salaries of government servants.

The gap of expectations and actions

There is a significant gap between the needs of people versus the government’s focus and actions. Significant hypocrisy, especially when COVID-19 is out of control, ICU beds are fully occupied, and an increasing number of people dying daily.

Many of these deaths are preventable: thus, people responsible must be made accountable.

In addition to COVID-related expenses of USD 205 million from the IMF, the government also received a few billion rupees through COVID funds. However, people are yet to see transparency on how these funds utilised. History of pilfering money and misappropriation exists in India and Sri Lanka: cash donations increase pilferage. Thus, informed expatriates would not donate money to non-transparent governments.

Any sensible government would have promptly cancelled all unnecessary expenses that do not benefit people or the country. These significant fund allocations provide the impression that it has plenty of funds to spare. If so, people wonder why they should donate.

Suggestion for donating funds for COVID relief

In addition to requests from embassies, the author received ten WhatsApp and email requests to donate to the Sri Lankan government over the past two weeks. While most funds are for purchasing equipment, including ICU beds, oxygen supplies, ventilators, monitors, personal protective equipment, etc., others want to donate cash.

Compared to other Asian countries, expatriate Indians have done a remarkable job. People are mobilised and doing what they can do, but the government fall behind.

Google search indicates dozens of government and private fundraising requests for COVID relief in Sri Lanka and India. Potential donors should assess how best they can assist the country and people, focussing on (A) helping families and communities starving and struggling for survival (save their lives first) and (B) provide essential equipment to hospitals.

Donating essential equipment is done via the deputy director of medical supplies, ministry of health. The staff will add these to inventories before sending equipment out to needed hospitals, especially those located remotely.

Nowadays, most politicians do not care about the country but focus on attracting votes, strengthening power and control, making money for themselves and close-knit groups of unscrupulous businesspeople. The country and its people come way down on their priority list.

Meanwhile, living costs escalated, water and food insecurity worsened, law and order are in disarray, educational institutes stalling. Distance learning is affordable for only a small percentage of families, supply chains and exports hindered, and the country’s currency is depreciating. It is time to reverse this negative trend.

What should be done now

Instead of the mismanaged priorities, governments should focus on saving lives by better managing COVID-19 and use out-of-the-box solutions, than continuing on failed paths. Down-sizing bloated and dysfunctional central government and abolish provincial administrations, and enforcing specific austerity measures would release trillions of rupees: adequate not only for total COVID care, including purchasing vaccines but also paying off all governmental loans. Besides, it eliminates the need for future loans when the government struggles to pay massive loans/debt Interests.

Using a small amount of this new money, although unnecessary, the government can double the capacity of all medical and ICU beds in government hospitals for treatment and double the public health inspectors and medical officers of health for disease prevention.

There is no need to expand beds or construct new hospitals if the health ministry takes the right actions to “prevent” the disease and complications.

Priority actions needed

Instead of extravagances, funds should use for purchasing essential items, such as (A) COVID vaccines, oxygen generators (concentrators) and cylinders, ventilators, (B) improved transportation facilities, (C) manufacture polymerase reaction kits locally or purchase adequate numbers ((the goal should be to carry out a minimum of 20,000 PCR tests each day in Sri Lanka), (D) improving supply chains, (E) import essential lifesaving medications, and (F) provide food and medicine for the most vulnerable groups, and (G) train supporting staff, nurses, and technicians, doubling the ICUs capacity.

Preparing for the worst is better than doing nothing or acting haphazardly.

The director of health should send a circular, specifically identifying crucial proactive steps to prevent COVID complications not practised currently. For example, boosting the immune system of everyone admitted to hospitals and quarantine centres, thus reducing severe complications and ICU admissions.

A recent COVID management circular by the director of health confirmed that no such actions are practice. The lack of a proactive complication prevention program could be considered negligence. [IDN-InDepthNews – 15 June 2021]

* The author can be reached at: Sunil J. Wimalawansa, MD, PhD, MBA, DSc: Here the link to the writer’s previous articles in IDN and IPS: and

Photo: COVID-19 patients receive oxygen at a place of worship in Ghaziabad, India. © UNICEF/Amarjeet Singh.

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