Keeping the Coronavirus at bay: Sri Lanka’s homegrown solutions

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At the time of writing, there are over 12,000 cases and 250 deaths. As the crisis continues to unfold, the World Health Organization has declared it to be a global health emergency. It was only 4 days ago that Sri Lanka confirmed its first case. Thankfully, the health authorities have responded swiftly and the number of local cases has not risen. Furthermore, their efforts have been supported by a few homegrown solutions as well. 

The Air Sterilization Units from SLINTEC

It should be noted that scientists have yet to figure out exactly how the coronavirus spreads. However, taking into account how quickly it’s spreading, medical professionals are treating it as an airborne pathogen. In simple terms, this means germs that can travel in particles or droplets in the air. Hence, nurses and doctors donning facemasks and other measures when interacting with patients. 

Sri Lanka | Wuhan Coronavirus
Thermal image sensors were installed at BIA following news of the wuhan coronavirus outbreak (Image credits: edition.mv)

When news of the coronavirus broke out, thermal image scanners were installed at the arrival terminal of the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA). Their purpose is to identify any passengers arriving with a fever as that is one of the symptoms of the virus. But the effectiveness of such measures is questionable. Particularly in the case of the coronavirus, which has an incubation period between 2-14 days. 

To that end, SLINTEC recently installed 22 air sterilization units inside BIA. Tear these units apart and inside you’ll find a fan that forces air into a chamber with a CFL lightbulb. The chamber surrounding this lightbulb is covered in a black photocatalyst layer, which was developed by Ceylon Graphene Limited together with the Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology (SLINTEC).

Sri Lanka | Wuhan Coronavirus | SLINTEC
SLINTEC recently added 22 air sterilization units at vulnerable locations inside BIA as an additional measure to keep the coronavirus at bay (Image credits: Manju Gunawardane)

These units clean the air using a chemical reaction called photocatalysis. In simplified terms, when the UV light from the lightbulb hits the photocatalytic layer, the chemical reaction begins. This reaction attacks the molecules of viruses and other pollutants in the air. In turn, making them harmless. Just like that, these air sterilization units kill airborne viruses by using light instead of chemicals. 

A system to monitor tourists and ensure follow-ups

Epidemics like the coronavirus are tackled by identifying infected patients. Afterwards, they need to be isolated for treatment before they can infect others. However, this is easier said than done. Even more so in the modern world, where cheap flights can get you anywhere. With Sri Lanka being famous as a tourist destination, the challenge does become much harder. 

Sri Lanka | Wuhan Coronavirus
To ensure medical follow-ups with visiting tourists, the ICTA and a group of doctors created a software to monitor their itinerary and keep record of their lodgings. (Image credits: New Indian Express)

As such, Dr. Anil Jasinghe – Health Services Director General announced that software has been developed to monitor the health conditions of tourists. He made this announcement during a discussion at Parliament while informing the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Health, Human welfare and Social Empowerment. The software was developed by the ICTA working alongside a group of doctors. The software will be used to monitor the itinerary and the details of the tourists’ lodgings. 

Dr. Anil added Chinese tourists are screened at the airport with follow-ups scheduled. The reasoning being it can take up to 14 days before symptoms appear. As such, the software will assist medical authorities with the follow-ups. Of course, it should be noted that he also mentioned that this software was developed in 2 days. So while helpful, it does raise concerns about security. After all, the last thing we need is the information of tourists stolen or illegally accessed and edited to impede the efforts of the authorities. 

A herbal face mask from the University of Kelaniya

When news of the 1st coronavirus patient in Sri Lanka was announced, local medical authorities also advised the public to utilize face masks. This was meant to be a precautionary measure when in public areas like malls, hotels, restaurants, etc. Of course, it wasn’t long before we saw people rushing to pharmacies in a panic. 

Sri Lanka | Wuhan Coronavirus
Aryu Herbals has created its own line of antiviral facemasks, which use a combination of locally sourced herbal materials (Image credits: Kapruka)

Soon after we had a shortage of face masks. Our social media feeds were flooded with stories of pharmacies unjustly raising prices. Ultimately, it forced the authorities to step in and set a maximum retail price for face masks. Regardless, while pharmacists were raising prices, a local startup created their own. 

Aryu Herbals created an antiviral masks that utilizes a 4 layer system to filter unhealthy gasses and other impurities in the air. Further, two of these protective layers utilize a combination of locally sourced herbal materials. Each of these masks can be utilized for a period of 72 hours. In a Linkedin post, Dulith Herath – CEO of Kapruka shared that the team is now producing 5000 masks per day. You can order a pack of 10 such masks, which will be delivered after the 3rd of February.

So how can you stay safe from the coronavirus? 

Based on the facts, one could argue that the authorities swiftly responded to the crisis. While many people have been infected, the majority of them are in China. Additionally, at the time of writing, the coronavirus has a mortality rate of approximately 2%. That’s significantly lower compared to other outbreaks like SARS, MERS, and Ebola. 

How the Wuhan coronavirus compares to SARS (Image credits: CNN)
How the Wuhan coronavirus compares to SARS (Image credits: CNN)

A closer comparison would be severe dengue, which has a mortality rate of 2.5% at most. Yet, this is a disease we regularly battle and ensure that with the right treatment, mortality rates are well below 1%. Further, the prompt response by the authorities to adopt technology like the air sterilization units by SLINTEC and have a monitoring system in place to follow-up with tourists in the country. 

This is why you panicking isn’t going to help you or anyone else. Granted, the WHO announced it was a global health emergency. Though, it’s important to look at the full context of this announcement. The number of cases keeps rising and there’s clear evidence of human to human transmission. But these weren’t the only reasons. The deciding factor was because of the risk it might reach nations with weak healthcare systems.

How to protect yourself and others from the wuhan coronavirus (Image credits: WHO)
How to protect yourself and others from the wuhan coronavirus (Image credits: WHO)

We may not sing praises of the Sri Lankan healthcare system. Nevertheless, right now the system is working as it should. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t protect yourself. Just as you would protect yourself from any other sickness, be sure to wash your hands, use tissues when coughing or sneezing, seek medical help early, and properly cook your food. Ultimately, the best way to protect yourself from the Wuhan coronavirus is by practising basic hygiene and common sense. 

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