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21st Century Demons &
Universal Health Access
in Sri Lanka
By Nalaka Gunawardene
Science Writer, Blogger and
Columnist (Ra...
My Approach: engaged layman
 Covered science, technology
& environment & public
health in media for 25 yrs
 ‘Bridging’ e...
Public Health & Public Perceptions
 Dosthara Wisthara: A
Doctor’s Experiences (2002)
 By Dr Ariyasena U Gamage
(MBBS, MD...
Public Health & Public Perceptions
 Most patients coming to public
hospitals have already tried
non-medical (i.e. belief-...
Confrontational approach:
Favoured by our Chief Myth-Buster
 Kerala-born science teacher
came to live in Ceylon in 1950s
...
Kovoor’s way:
Scientific Method, all the way…
 No absolute truths
 No dogmas
 No SACRED COWS!
But 50 yrs later,
debate ...
Indigenous Knowledge
or just Romanticised Dogma?
Cartoon by Awantha Artigala, Daily Mirror, 22 June 2011
 Kovoor’s approach: investigate, analyse, expose &
debunk myths/frauds
 Amplify findings through supportive media
 Can ...
Can Rationalists Awaken
the Sleep-walking Lankan Nation?
 Op-Ed essay by Nalaka Gunawardene
 Groundviews.org, 12 Jan 201...
Mass media as 21st Century
Pied Pipers!
 TV matters most in LK
 Pipers’ Tunes may be fully
sponsored…
 Freedom to do so...
ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
(Steven Spielberg, 1982)
 Lovely tale of a benign
alien being making friends
with Earth kids
 ...
Have Lankans
Suspended Disbelief -- Permanently?
 “Is ‘suspended disbelief’
becoming a default setting for
many Lankans? ...
Old Demons & New Demons:
Something for everyone?
 As literacy & education spread, less
people accept/peddle traditional L...
Health-linked phobias/myths
abound!
 Mobile phones (instruments &
transmission towers): harmful?
 Mass panic about Arsen...
New Demons often dressed in
clothes of Pseudo-Science…
 Superficially projected as ‘technical’
BUT without the rigour & s...
Everyone Loves a Good Myth:
We had a good laugh in 2012!
Dominant public & media perception:
Lanka as “Hapless Island under siege”
 Projecting a
vulnerable island
Image created: “Lanka vulnerable to
evil forces both internal & external”
Worth further research by you:
Health Myths in Sri Lanka: 3 Kinds
First Kind:
 Personal beliefs
or habits
 Based on date...
MYTHS get in the way…
 Discourage individual action
 Feed into apathy & fatalism
 Mislead collective action
 Misguide,...
From GOSL/WHO/Unicef poster on national
immunization programme of Sri Lanka
NOT advocating simplistic,
pure technocratic solutions…
 Like individuals, nations also
not always driven by rational
arg...
Real Life isn’t a movie!
Our Only Defence against Demons
(Old & New): Vigilant Minds!
Ceylon Today column:
http://collidecolumn.wordpress.com
Blog:
nalakagunawardene.com
Twitter:
twitter.com/NalakaG
Email:
al...
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21st Century Demons & Public Health in Sri Lanka by Nalaka Gunawardene, 24 sep 2013

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21st Century Demons & Public Health in Sri Lanka. Plenary presentation made at the Annual Sessions of the College of Community Physicians Sri Lanka, in Colombo, 24 Sep 2013.

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21st Century Demons & Public Health in Sri Lanka by Nalaka Gunawardene, 24 sep 2013

  1. 1. 21st Century Demons & Universal Health Access in Sri Lanka By Nalaka Gunawardene Science Writer, Blogger and Columnist (Ravaya, Ceylon Today) nalakagunawardene.com College of Community Physicians Sri Lanka Annual Sessions: Colombo, 24 Sep 2013
  2. 2. My Approach: engaged layman  Covered science, technology & environment & public health in media for 25 yrs  ‘Bridging’ experts & publics  Asking many questions…  Seeking answers & clarity:  Curious, eager, open-minded  As sceptical enquirer  No political agenda
  3. 3. Public Health & Public Perceptions  Dosthara Wisthara: A Doctor’s Experiences (2002)  By Dr Ariyasena U Gamage (MBBS, MD), former senior lecturer in community medicine, Univ of Peradeniya  Stories & impressions from 25 yrs in SL public health service  Empathetic insights on sociology, psychology and anthropology of health
  4. 4. Public Health & Public Perceptions  Most patients coming to public hospitals have already tried non-medical (i.e. belief-based) attempts at healing  Some of these do no harm (except delay); a few even reassure patients & families  Others do mislead, mistreat and complicate ailments YET SUCH PRACTICES ARE:  Deeply embedded in culture  Direct dismissals won’t work
  5. 5. Confrontational approach: Favoured by our Chief Myth-Buster  Kerala-born science teacher came to live in Ceylon in 1950s  1959 on: Took to investigating ‘supernatural’ phenomena & ‘paranormal’ practices.  Found adequate physical or psychological explanations for almost all ‘mysteries’  1960: Founded Ceylon Rationalist Association, which continues his work todate Dr Abraham T Kovoor (1898 - 1978)
  6. 6. Kovoor’s way: Scientific Method, all the way…  No absolute truths  No dogmas  No SACRED COWS! But 50 yrs later, debate still rages on:  How best to relate to Indigenous knowledge  What about those exploiting IK as a cover?
  7. 7. Indigenous Knowledge or just Romanticised Dogma? Cartoon by Awantha Artigala, Daily Mirror, 22 June 2011
  8. 8.  Kovoor’s approach: investigate, analyse, expose & debunk myths/frauds  Amplify findings through supportive media  Can this work TODAY, e.g. about ‘faith healing’?  LK Society less tolerant (fraudsters now engage thugs!)  LK Media less critical (airwaves crowded with black magic!)
  9. 9. Can Rationalists Awaken the Sleep-walking Lankan Nation?  Op-Ed essay by Nalaka Gunawardene  Groundviews.org, 12 Jan 2013  http://tiny.cc/Rat21 L to R: Abraham T Kovoor, Carlo Fonseka, Dharmapala Senaratne
  10. 10. Mass media as 21st Century Pied Pipers!  TV matters most in LK  Pipers’ Tunes may be fully sponsored…  Freedom to do so can’t be blocked in open societies with market economy  Instead, we can & must strengthen media literacy  Timeless advice: Caveat emptor (Buyer beware!)
  11. 11. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982)  Lovely tale of a benign alien being making friends with Earth kids  ET had magical healing powers in his finger-tip  No such powers found in humans, despite various claims of faith healers!  We can suspend disbelief for imagined stories, NOT in real life!
  12. 12. Have Lankans Suspended Disbelief -- Permanently?  “Is ‘suspended disbelief’ becoming a default setting for many Lankans? Despite high levels literacy and schooling, is our society more gullible and paranoid now than a generation ago? If so, why?”  I asked this in my Sunday column in Ceylon Today, 22 Sep 2013  Full text: http://tiny.cc/SusDB
  13. 13. Old Demons & New Demons: Something for everyone?  As literacy & education spread, less people accept/peddle traditional LK demons (Maha Sona, Mohinee, Riri Yaka, et al.)  21st Century Demons have emerged:  Urban myths & paranoia  Various conspiracy theories  Growing list of ‘Public Enemies’ said to be “plotting against fragile Lanka & her people”  “Foreign hands” at work???
  14. 14. Health-linked phobias/myths abound!  Mobile phones (instruments & transmission towers): harmful?  Mass panic about Arsenic in rice  Phobias about all things ‘chemical’ or ‘synthetic’  So-called ‘contraceptive conspiracies’ gaining ground  Etc, etc.
  15. 15. New Demons often dressed in clothes of Pseudo-Science…  Superficially projected as ‘technical’ BUT without the rigour & self- correction inherent in real science  2012 End of the World claims dominated by pseudo-science  “Pseudoscience speaks to powerful emotional needs that science often leaves unfulfilled. It caters to fantasies about personal powers we lack and long for.” - Carl Sagan (1934-96)
  16. 16. Everyone Loves a Good Myth: We had a good laugh in 2012!
  17. 17. Dominant public & media perception: Lanka as “Hapless Island under siege”  Projecting a vulnerable island
  18. 18. Image created: “Lanka vulnerable to evil forces both internal & external”
  19. 19. Worth further research by you: Health Myths in Sri Lanka: 3 Kinds First Kind:  Personal beliefs or habits  Based on dated info or hearsay  Does no harm to holders or rest of society  No health policy implications or costs Second Kind:  Exaggerations or distortions  Repeated by many without questioning  Harmful to believer in certain situations  May have policy implications & costs  No major societal damage  Easily debunked Third Kind:  Fabrications by vested interests  Falsified science and/or wrong interpretations  Actively peddled to confuse our public  High potential for fear & panic  Can hold up or confuse policy responses
  20. 20. MYTHS get in the way…  Discourage individual action  Feed into apathy & fatalism  Mislead collective action  Misguide, distort or paralyse policy  Can also lead, in some cases, to:  waste of public funds  Irreversible damage/loss  lost opportunities to act in time  massive costs of repair/restoration
  21. 21. From GOSL/WHO/Unicef poster on national immunization programme of Sri Lanka
  22. 22. NOT advocating simplistic, pure technocratic solutions…  Like individuals, nations also not always driven by rational arguments or scientific logic…  Emotions & beliefs matter!  Let’s not look for simple techno fixes to real world problems…  PLEA: Open-minded, broad- based discussion & debate  Instead of DOGMA or BELIEF!
  23. 23. Real Life isn’t a movie!
  24. 24. Our Only Defence against Demons (Old & New): Vigilant Minds!
  25. 25. Ceylon Today column: http://collidecolumn.wordpress.com Blog: nalakagunawardene.com Twitter: twitter.com/NalakaG Email: alien@nalaka.org Everything here is open to debate Thanks!

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