Overwhelmed PHIs throw in the towel?


  • Cite massive caseloads and lack of facilities and resources
  • Mulling trade union action


BY Dinitha Rathnayake

The public health inspectors (PHIs) are almost at the point of “giving up” their duties as they are completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of Covid-19 cases and utterly demotivated due to the scant regard for their needs by the Government, according to PHIs’ Union Secretary Mahendra Balasooriya.

“We are completely overwhelmed. There is nobody to listen to our plight. We are reluctant to go for trade union action because we don’t want to further inconvenience the general public who are already suffering. But the truth is that we have given up. We have no choice as we are utterly demotivated. We are only continuing to do this as a service to the public.”

Noting that there are only 2,700 PHIs to attend to the total national population of 21.5 million people, he illustrated the lack of capacity by pointing to the Covid-19 situation in Gampaha yesterday (16).

“By the afternoon, 168 Covid-19-positive cases had been reported for the day from Gampaha along with five deaths. Just imagine attending to 168 cases in one day including tracing the first contacts, making hospital admissions, managing the conducting of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and rapid antigen tests, and facilitating funerals.

The public must also understand that the hospital capacity, admission capacity, and ambulance capacity are also full at the moment. What’s more, the Government doesn’t reveal the actual numbers. As per our records, 10,000 people get positive daily whereas the government official report indicates only 3,000 daily reported cases.”

He was responding to certain allegations from the public that the PHIs do not attend to quarantine-related work on time, resulting in certain Covid-19-positive patients having to wait up to 10 days without receiving any attention from these officers.

Furthermore, Balasooriya said that the treatment meted out to PHIs has demoralised them as around 30 PHIs are under quarantine or have tested positive for Covid-19 at present and are treated in the same beds as Covid-19 patients.

“We are handling this Covid-19 situation for around two years now without any facilities from the Government. We are not even provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) like surgical facemasks as we need to buy those ourselves. We don’t get our allowances properly, and our mobile bills are paid by us. Sometimes we have to travel 25-30 km per day on uncarpeted roads, in order to fulfil our duties,” he added.

He also claimed that PHIs requested a long time back for the authorities to close all public places like bars, casinos, and spas and to limit the number of people who participate in weddings, but the Government did not respond to any of these requests.

He added that they were mulling the option of embarking on trade union action to address lacunas in the facilities they require as they are neglected by the authorities.

“Most of the officials are unaware of the current situation and are not willing to have a discussion with us. We are the ones who handle the ground situation and we are the ones who know the real situation but we are not invited for any of the high-level discussions, so how will they know the real situation? The Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Puttalam, and Kurunegala Districts have already exceeded their capacity since the Covid-19-positive cases are increasing day by day.”