Measles in Sri Lanka: a Thing of the PastAt a time when the world is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, other potentially lethal diseases can go overlooked. Measles is a disease that has had the status of “eliminated” in the United States for 20 years. This disease still affects countries across the globe. However, Sri Lanka has eradicated measles.

Despite having a vaccine since the 1960s, measles continues to afflict the world’s poor. Annual outbreaks in low- and middle-income countries have a severe and pronounced effect on their health systems. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 140,000 people died of measles globally.

COVID-19 Pandemic’s Effects on Measles

COVID-19 has made the possibility of wider measles outbreaks more likely. The pandemic has constrained health systems. As a result, it has been hard for some children to get the two vaccine doses they needed in order to be immune to measles. However, the international community is coming together to solve the problem. The WHO initially set a target of 2020 for eradicating measles in South-East Asia. Recently, the 11 member countries of the region have pushed back the goal until 2023.

Sri Lanka’s Eradication of Measles

One South-East Asian country that has already seen success in eradicating measles is Sri Lanka. A small island nation in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka’s health infrastructure is pretty effective at combating disease and promoting health outcomes. This strong healthcare system, combined with a robust vaccination program and effective monitoring, made measles in Sri Lanka a thing of the past.

In a large outbreak of measles in 1999 and 2000, 15,000 people contracted the disease. Following this outbreak, the government decided to implement a two-dose vaccine schedule throughout the country. In order to facilitate access to vaccines, early campaigns partnered with non-governmental organizations. In 2004, The Red Cross assisted the Sri Lankan government in messaging, training volunteers and administering vaccines.

Sri Lanka was able to increase vaccination rates to over 95%. This figure is important because health experts estimate that vaccinations need to be at least that high in order to create “herd immunity.” Herd immunity is the concept that high levels of vaccination mean that enough people are immune to the disease, that even small outbreaks can spread. This protects those who are vaccinated and those who may not be able to be vaccinated due to lack of medical access or adverse health effects.

Because of these efforts, measles is officially considered eradicated in the country. In addition, the last indigenous case of measles in Sri Lanka occurred in May of 2016. Although there were some smaller outbreaks since then, they have mostly been cases contracted abroad, or from people mitigating into Sri Lanka. Fortunately, the government was able to slow these outbreaks.

Cases of measles in Sri Lanka have fallen faster than they have in the rest of South-East Asia, where only 5 of 11 countries have fully eradicated measles. The region is, however, making some progress. Between 2014 and 2017, deaths in South-East Asia have dropped by 23%.

Thomas Gill

Photo: Flickr

Life Expectancy in Sri LankaSri Lanka is a country that used to be torn by civil war. Now, thanks to peace and foreign investment, the country is making major strides towards improving the lives of its citizens. Below are seven facts about how life expectancy in Sri Lanka is improving.

7 Facts about Life Expectancy in Sri Lanka

  1. Life expectancy in Sri Lanka is currently 77.1 years. The life expectancy for males is 73.7 and is 80.8 for females. This is an increase of more than seven years from 20 years ago.
  2. The country’s three-decade civil war resulted in thousands of deaths including more than 7,000 in the final months. However, since the war ended in 2009, the country has been able to stabilize and improve economic conditions.
  3. Since 2006 the percent of people living in poverty has decreased from 15.3 percent to 4 percent. This decrease in poverty has been in large part due to the improving economy in Sri Lanka which registered an average economic growth rate of 5.8 percent from 2010 to 2017. The correlation between poverty and life expectancy is clear. When one is out of poverty and has more resources, they are able to live longer lives.
  4. Children are being immunized against disease at a 99 percent rate. Children have access to immunizations leading to a lower rate of children dying of preventable diseases. They can live longer and happier lives without worrying about diseases such as measles, hepatitis and DPT.
  5. Sri Lanka is focused on educating its youth, by seeking foreign investment. For instance, in 2017, the country secured a $100 million loan from the World Bank in order to enhance the quality of degree programs and boost STEM enrollment and research opportunities at the university level. The country’s investments are paying off as Sri Lanka has the highest reported youth literacy rate in South Asia at 98.77 percent versus India (89.66) and Bangladesh (83.2 percent).
  6. The under-5 mortality rate is less than 10 percent. The under-5 mortality rate broke below 10 percent in 2014 and has been declining since 2005. In fact, the under-5 mortality rate stood at more than 20 percent less than two decades ago. CARE and the Red Cross are two organizations that have been especially focused on improved health care services since the 1950s.
  7. The U.N. projects that the life expectancy rate will exceed 80 years within the next 20 years. However, as the Minister of External Affairs noted at a U.N. conference in 2014, “with…increased life expectancy, we are facing new challenges, namely the incidence of NCDs, a growing aging population by 2030, addressing issues facing young people and containing the spread of HIV/AIDS.”

Sri Lanka is a great example of a country that shows what can happen with peace and investment. Their economy is growing and with it, the people’s lives are improving not only in quality but also in length.

– Josh Fritzjunker and Kim Thelwell
Photo: Flickr

Sri Lanka Poverty RateSri Lanka, often called the pearl of the Indian Ocean, is a beautiful island with incredible and diverse landscapes. It is a major exporter of tea and women’s clothing. Despite being located near some of the most poverty-stricken nations in the world, the poverty rate in Sri Lanka has been steadily decreasing, even through a twenty-six-year civil war that ended in 2009.

The national poverty headcount ratio decreased 15.9 percent between 2002 and 2012, even with more than double the population the small island nation had had in 1960. According to the Asian Development Bank, 6.7 percent of Sri Lankans live below the poverty line in 2017, which is around the same level it was in 2012.

Increased economic growth and foreign investment have led to higher wages, better living conditions and widespread urbanization. Sri Lanka’s GDP has been increasing since 1963 and is predicted to grow another five percent in 2018. However, this growth has not allowed all regions to prosper. Some parts of Sri Lanka, such as Jaffna and Galle, have very high poverty rates because of the civil war and natural disasters, respectively.

A massive tsunami, which struck Sri Lanka’s south western coast in 2004–primarily in the area of Galle–left thousands homeless and injured. It also severely depleted the coastal water supply by contaminating nearly 40,000 wells with sea water.

The war, which took place primarily in the northern parts of Sri Lanka, caused more than 100,000 refugees to flee to southern India. These people now have immense difficulty resettling in Sri Lanka, as their homes and towns have been destroyed by the war.

Sri Lanka does, however, have over 30 welfare programs, and the recently sworn-in government ran upon a platform of plans to reduce poverty rates. Progress has been made, even in spite of these obstacles.

Of course, many improvements can still be made as well. Funding for these welfare programs has been low and is declining, and the government record-keeping system is very inefficient–much of it is not yet digitized. There is not enough data surrounding poverty levels in the country, and, without this knowledge, it is difficult to put in place effective reform.

The poverty rate in Sri Lanka has decreased and is at an all-time low, but there are still major improvements to be made. The government will need to increase funding, and there are many gaps in knowledge that will need to be filled if the poverty rate is to decrease any further.

Liyanga de Silva

Photo: Flickr

Common Diseases in Sri Lanka
As a country that endures two monsoon seasons and is surrounded by several bodies of water, Sri Lanka is particularly vulnerable to floods. The country’s floods do not just damage physical property, but also pose a threat to Sri Lankans’ health. Most of the common diseases in Sri Lanka are so due to the danger the floods pose.

The floods that affect Sri Lanka leave the nation’s people with damaged homes and an excess of unsanitary water. With the contaminated floodwater lingering around, more mosquitoes are likely to come, thus increasing the risk of dengue fever. Due to severe flooding that occurred this past May, affecting more than 600,000 people, many are now concerned that dengue cases will increase.

Based on statistics, they have a valid reason to worry. In the past seven months alone, there were already 80,732 dengue fever cases reported in the nation. This number tremendously exceeds the number of cases the country had seen from 2000-2016. While there are four different types of dengue fever, DENV-2 is the one that is mostly spreading throughout the nation right now.

Besides dengue fever, there are other common diseases in Sri Lanka that pose an increased threat due to flooding. One of these diseases is cholera. With 172,454 reported cases in 2015, cholera remains an issue in today’s world. The abundance of contaminated floodwater increases the risk of Sri Lankans contracting cholera.

In response to the recent flooding crisis, Australia is giving the World Health Organization money to establish programs that focus on dengue fever in Sri Lanka. The World Health Organization is also working with the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health to assist with any medical issues related to the flood. The World Health Organization is supplying the nation with more beds in an effort to provide more people with medical assistance.

Although the people of Sri Lanka struggle from the aftermath of monsoons, they, fortunately, receive help from others.

Raven Rentas

Photo: Flickr

Why Is Sri Lanka Poor
Sri Lanka has been suggested to be an early achiever of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in various areas. From primary school enrollment to universal reproductive health service provisions, Sri Lanka has made significant strides to improve the living conditions of its people. Poverty in the country has fallen from 22.7% in 2002 to 6.1% in 2012. However, large pockets of poverty remain which begs the question, why is Sri Lanka Poor?

3 Reasons Why Sri Lanka is Poor

  1. Previous Conflict
    Sri Lanka has been torn by civil war since 1983. The war resulted from ethnic tensions between the Buddhist Sinhalese majority and the Hindu Tamil minority. Between 80,000 and 100,000 lives were lost during the conflict and hundreds of thousands of others were displaced. In 2009, the civil war ended but stable peace was not achieved. Approximately 370,000 citizens were still displaced in Sri Lanka in 2012 while other citizens lost property and witnessed fragmentation in their communities. One of the main pockets of poverty that remains in Sri Lanka is in the former conflict districts in the Northern Province. For instance, 28.8% of individuals in the Mullaitivu district live in poverty on $1.90 USD or less a day in 2011. While Sri Lanka has shown large improvement in its development in recent years, the development has been suggested to be non-inclusive and unequal. Vulnerable groups are excluded in the country’s development upsurge.
  2. Education Disparities
    The regional disparities in Sri Lanka are partially due to variations in productive earnings opportunities. In 2012/13, more than 85% of Sri Lanka’s poor lived and worked in the rural sector of the economy. Among the bottom 40%, the main cause of poverty is education quality. Schools in rural areas or in areas that were previously affected by conflict have difficulty attracting qualified teachers to educate their children. With hundreds of schools in the north and east regions of Sri Lanka still needing repair from the 30-year civil war, children are not provided the necessary facilities to obtain a quality education. Education expenditure in 2014 only accounted for 1.9% of the country’s GDP and was around 7.3% of the government’s budget that year. Sri Lanka has one of the lowest tax-to-GDP rates internationally, which undercuts the government’s ability to invest in education. Why is Sri Lanka poor? The country lacks the proper public investments necessary to improve the educational facilities of the country. Without proper educational facilities for the youth of Sri Lanka, the children will lack the necessary skills for economic progression.
  3. Climate Change
    While the issues previously mentioned can be solved through national policy, the issues of climate change can only be solved with international cooperation. The recent heavy rains and mudslides in Sri Lanka are examples of the serious implications of climate change for the living standards of the Sri Lankan poor. The recent extreme weather events have left nearly 2,000 homes destroyed and more than half a million people displaced. With stagnant floodwaters, the fear of increasing the Dengue Fever crisis has amplified. The poor are sensitive to the climate as they depend on natural resources for their livelihoods. In 2015, 28% of Sri Lankans were still employed in the agricultural sector. With climate change, the summer rainfall and winter monsoons are now unpredictable and affect the growing season of crops in the country. Why is Sri Lanka poor? The recent changes in the climate have reduced crop yields and crop growth in Sri Lanka due to heat intolerance and water evaporation. This reduces the economic returns to those in the agricultural sector, leading to lower incomes for the individuals affected by these environmental changes. On top of the reduced livelihood security, the frequency of droughts, floods and rising sea waters in Sri Lanka is displacing communities due to shelter damage. Additionally, the conditions lead to malnutrition and the increased incidence of infectious disease. Since the beginning of the year, 53,000 cases of Dengue Fever have been recorded. As severe floods persist, other diarrheal diseases such as malaria, Hepatitis and cholera are expected to spread. With high temperatures and poor hygiene for the poor of Sri Lanka, the climate conditions will lead to bacterial proliferation. This further reduces the living standards of the poor.

The three reasons provided above do not completely answer the question: Why is Sri Lanka Poor? However, the topics do uncover important challenges faced in Sri Lanka. The country has made many strides in recent years to improve the living conditions of its citizens. But more should be done to protect the population from the changing climate and to produce an inclusive economy for all its citizens.

Tess Hinteregger

Photo: Flickr



Human Rights in Sri Lanka
Ridden with human rights violations, Sri Lanka is an example of the abuses that persist around the world. A 27-year civil war contributed to the lack of human rights in Sri Lanka. Although the war has ended, these violations have not. A new government instilled hope for many, but sadly a United Nations envoy discovered that human rights are still a pressing issue for the island country.

The conclusion of the civil war saw the massacre of an estimated 40,000 Tamils, an ethnic group that was seeking independence. The U.N. has made revelations in recent years that human rights were violated and ignored by both sides during the war.

The civil war saw fighting between government forces and the ethnic minority group the Tamils. The 27-year war caused the deaths of 100,000 people and created the foundation for unstable human rights in Sri Lanka. The war ended almost 10 years ago, but trials and accusations are still of concern to the U.N., Sri Lanka’s government and the Tamils.

Some accusations include withholding aid by the government and forced recruitment by the rebels. These are both considered human rights abuses and reaffirm that there have been consistent abuses of human rights in Sri Lanka.

Nearly 10 years after the end of an atrocious war, Sri Lanka has begun to realize the damage done and has instituted reforms and changes to better the future. The newly elected government of 2015 has been praised by organizations such as Human Rights Watch for ensuring that the police, judiciary system and human rights commissions are all independent sectors. These reforms signal progress, but Sri Lanka continues to be plagued with human rights abuses.

Women are universally at a disadvantage when it comes to human rights, and Sri Lanka is no exception. The U.N. Commissioner on human rights reported that barriers such as various languages, narrow knowledge on social norms around the world and a stigma that is associated with reporting sexual crimes have made Sri Lanka a dangerous place for women.

Although there is still work to be done, human rights in Sri Lanka could be headed for a prosperous future. With a progressive government in place, Sri Lanka is in a place to move forward. The civil war brought atrocities and decades of terror, but hope is the best choice for Sri Lanka.

Sophie Casimes
Photo: Flickr

Malaria in Sri Lanka
In the mid 20th century, Sri Lanka lied among the most malaria-stricken countries in the world. However, in September 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) certified the successful elimination of malaria in Sri Lanka. A remarkable public health achievement, Sri Lanka is the second country in South East Asia to eliminate malaria (the Maldives being the first).

Eighty percent of Sri Lanka’s population lives in rural areas– the ideal environment for the mosquito species Anopheles culicifacies, the main vector of malaria in the region. The Plasmodium falciparum parasite causes the disease and is carried by Anopheles mosquitoes that feed on the blood of humans.

For seven decades, the country prioritized making the nation malaria-free. Malaria in Sri Lanka soared in the 1970s and 1980s, and the nation started an anti-malaria campaign in the 1990s. A strategy targeted the parasite in addition to the mosquito.

In 1991, the country’s number of cases of malaria reached up to 400,000. The country’s civil war put soldiers in the most vulnerable positions, with 115 people dying from malaria in 1998.

At the end of the war in 2009, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Health launched a malaria elimination program, funded in part by the Global Funds to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The campaign included mobile malaria clinics in high transmission areas with effective surveillance, community engagement and health education.

This program enhanced the ability of the authorities to respond. Ever since the implementation of this campaign, the introduction of high surveillance maintains the elimination of the parasite in Sri Lanka.

The eradication of malaria in Sri Lanka raised the hopes of 30 other nations to end the disease that kills 400,000 people every year. As the director of the WHO’s Global Malaria program stated, the island country demonstrated that any government can eliminate malaria with improved efforts.

Aishwarya Bansal

Photo: Flickr

A Resolution to the Quality of Water in Sri Lanka
The U.N. estimates that in just nine years, half the people in the world will not have access to safe water. Water sources will be affected by climate change, pollution, war, over-development and unsustainable agriculture. Sri Lanka has an abundance of safe water resources, however, the water is not distributed equally.

Almost 90 percent of the people living in urban areas have access to safe water, compared with 60 percent of rural communities. The quality of water in Sri Lanka for the three million people living in dry zones can only be described as contaminated. There is no safe water source within a 200-mile radius, leaving people in the dry zones dependent on groundwater from dug wells and tube wells.

Chemicals, such as fluoride, nitrates and arsenic, are present in groundwater at very high levels as a result of their geogenic origin. Consequently, these chemical contaminants affect the quality of water in Sri Lanka’s dry zones and in turn, the health of people who get their water in dug wells and tube wells. An increase in kidney diseases and cancer in Sri Lanka has been attributed to exposure to these chemicals.

People have attempted to resolve issues with the quality of water in Sri Lanka with bowser-driven water distribution, residential rainwater harvesting plants and bottled water, but a long-term solution is needed. The Sri Lankan National Water Supply and Drainage Board awarded Veolia, a French firm, a $164 million contract to design and build five water treatment plants, 12 service reservoirs, five pumping stations and 430 kilometers of transmission and distribution pipes. The water treatment plants will be located in Matale, Ambangang, Ukuwela, Udatenna and Rattotta. The plants will provide clean safe drinking water to more than 350,000 people in the agricultural area of Greater Matale in central Sri Lanka.

Clean, safe water is critical to the health of a nation and its people. The five water treatment plants are just the beginning of efforts to provide a sustainable solution to the quality of water in Sri Lanka that provides the entire population with a clean, safe water.

Mary Barringer

Photo: Flickr

Public health midwives have been a part of Sri Lankan culture for nearly a century, but their role has recently evolved into a prominent one in the community. Midwives in Sri Lanka not only attend births, but now they also cover preventive health community services. Since approximately 72 percent of Sri Lankans live in rural areas, over 90 percent of public health midwives serve in rural communities, ensuring that typically neglected areas prone to high poverty rates still receive adequate health coverage.

Sri Lanka has committed itself to promoting gender equality. Absolute poverty rates, typically affecting females and children more than males, have been on the decline. As of 2013, 90 percent of Sri Lankan adult females are literate. One of the most impressive efforts to both alleviate poverty and promote the role of women in the community is the central role of midwives in Sri Lanka. The free provision of healthcare at all stages of life, coupled with the usage of traditional cultural practices, has allowed midwives to become respected, sought-after figures in communities. Midwives are viewed as trusted healthcare providers and provide medical guidance to both men and women. Midwives in Sri Lanka have also played a huge role in the high rate of attended births (98 percent) and the incredibly low maternal mortality rate (32 per 100,000 live births).

Improving maternal health has far-reaching effects due to the improvement of the quality of life for women. Access to education is improved. Girls now make up 50 percent of students in secondary education and have the opportunity to attend higher levels of education. Additionally, the focus on rural health by midwives in Sri Lanka is coupled with rural development efforts that have resulted in absolute poverty rates of less than 10 percent and improved access to safe drinking water and electricity.

New challenges are arising, such as a rise in noncommunicable diseases and low midwife recruitment numbers. However, adaptations are being made. Providing more educational opportunities for midwives, increasing their role in addressing public health issues like domestic violence, and offering more public sector employment incentives will be important moving forward. Midwives in Sri Lanka are not only an integral part of the healthcare system but also play an important part in promoting gender equality and opportunities for women.

Nicole Toomey

Photo: Flickr

Yowun Pura, or “The City of Youth,” is a youth program in Colombo, Sri Lanka that provides the nation’s student population the opportunity to contribute to national, social and economic development within their communities. It also provides them the chance to improve health and education in Sri Lanka by affording children the opportunity to stay, both mentally and physically active and asking for their feedback.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe formed the program himself while he was Minister of Education and Youth Affairs back in the 1980s. The Prime Minister speaks highly of the program, indicating that the youth are the most successful and contributive when it comes to quality of life and education in Sri Lanka.

The program, which is run through the Youth Camp and organized by the government, intends to provide local youth the skills necessary in order to actively and effectively contribute to their nation’s development.

Yowun Pura is a widespread effort to empower the nation’s youth by affording them the opportunity to strengthen social and economic development, as well as education in Sri Lanka. The program does so by working to develop relationships, dialogue and reconciliatory skills amongst Sri Lankan youth and between international youths.

Through group work and programs such as educational activities, sports, cultural events, entertainment and open dialogue, the program aims to open active discussion about national development with future generations and inspire the youngest generations to share their suggestions regarding the nation’s prosperity.

Though entirely voluntary, Yowun Pura is proud to shed the confines of race, religion and political parties in order to unite the nation’s youth. For this reason, the youth leadership program is considered an important advancement in the development of global education in Sri Lanka.

Jaime Viens

Photo: Flickr