In this country party politics has not spared anything. Not even a public convenience gets opened without a political ceremony. Ruling party politicians and their Opposition counterparts never miss an opportunity to kick up a row, to hell with the national interest. At present we are being treated to an obnoxious political battle over an issue of national import the Rubella vaccination.
Following a schoolgirl`s death in Wariyapola recently due to an allergic condition resulting from Rubella vaccination, the Health Ministry has drawn a great deal of flak. In March, a schoolgirl died under similar circumstances in Matara. The Rubella vaccination programme was halted pending an investigation and it was later claimed that nothing was wrong with the vaccine. Precautions had been taken to meet emergencies, we were told and vaccination resumed only to be suspended again the other day following a disaster.
The kneejerk reaction of the Opposition has been to demand that the Health Minister resign forthwith! Its position is that the Rubella vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India (Pune) is of low quality and used only in Sri Lanka and some African countries. But, the WHO is of the view that the vaccine meets its standards and the supplier is registered with it.
When the first death occurred in Matara, the blame was pinned on the person who had administered the vaccine. It was claimed that he was not qualified to handle vaccination and precautions like having an emergency tray with antidotes at the ready had not been adopted to counter a serious allergic reaction. Thus, the government managed to restore public confidence in the Rubella vaccination programme. But, the second death has triggered panic among children and parents alike and allaying their fears will be an uphill task.
The government says it has initiated an investigation again. It must be expedited and findings made public. We hope there will be no attempt at a cover-up. It needs to be established beyond doubt whether deaths have occurred due to any negligence on the part of those who administered the vaccine whether the vaccine really meets the international standards and whether there is a risk factor to contend with.
The bottom line is that Rubella vaccination is essential for the wellbeing of future generations and the challenge before us is to reap its benefits while avoiding disasters. Experts must put their heads together and work out a remedy. The country is in a dilemma she cannot stop Rubella vaccination to ensure the safety of today`s children and run the risk of having children with congenital abnormalities tomorrow.
A political battle between the government and the Opposition won`t help solve the problem. If Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva listens to the Opposition and resigns, the country may have one problem less but it is doubtful whether his resignation will be a solution to the vaccine problem. Former Health Minister Renuka Herath, MP, who is out for Minister de Silva`s scalp, ought to make public her solution, if any. If the Rubella vaccine imported from the Serum Institute of India is substandard, she should tell us where safe vaccines are available. The government insists that there is no other place to shop for the vaccine. Renuka should disprove Nimal.
If the Rubella vaccine is past the shelf life as some physicians are reported to have claimed, then doctors` unions must take up the issue in a bigger way. Doctors have demonstrated, on more than one occasion, that they are capable of making governments fall in line with the help of shock therapy, which they unfortunately administer very selectively only for their benefit. Why are they baulking at taking on the government and warning the public, if they are confident that there is something drastically wrong with the present stock of Rubella vaccines?
What matters most on this score is the opinion of independent doctors. They must speak up. If it could be proved that there were irregularities in the purchase of the vaccine at issue and someone lined his or her pocket, heads must roll.
Meanwhile, it is imperative that politicians exercise control over their restless tongues.