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UK’s ‘contaminated blood’ scandal finally meets closure: Should Sri Lanka react? 

By: Isuru Parakrama

May 20, Colombo (LNW): The infamous ‘contaminated blood’ scandal in the United Kingdom has reportedly reached a closure, following decades of silence knowingly exposing victims to unacceptable risks.

The probe went on for five years, accusing the National Health Service (NHS) of letting patients catch HIV and hepatitis, and after a three-decade silence, the long-awaited report confirmed the figures and the authorities’ attempts of covering up the scenario.

Over 30,000 people were infected from 1970 to 1991 by contaminated blood products and transfusions, with 3,000 confirmed deaths being followed. 

“The Infected Blood Inquiry said victims had been failed “not once but repeatedly” by doctors, the NHS, government, and others responsible for their safety,” The Guardian reported.

The Infected Blood Inquiry criticised the failure to prioritise patient safety and highlighted “unacceptable risks,” including importing unsafe blood products and delayed heat-treatment of blood. Inquiry Chief Sir Brian Langstaff condemned the cover-up and institutional defensiveness, noting it destroyed lives and finances. 

The British Government finally acknowledges the need for compensation, with interim payments already being made, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to publicly apologise.

But what does it mean for Sri Lanka? Should we consider a reader’s regular on the story and subsequently move on to the next page of our newspaper, or does it unearth a doorway into a more sinister realm in which we, as a whole, are unconsciously subjugated to live, regardless of the pleasures we enjoy along the way?

Sri Lanka remains acclaimed for eradicating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis, maintaining the virus’ transmission below one per cent, having a clean record of successful blood transfusion and most recently, controlling Covid.

However, reaching beyond the point of health, there are quite a concerning number of unanswered questions regarding Sri Lanka which, without doubt, attracted the international community’s attention.

Scandal, as harsh as it sounds, has a deeper meaning to it than meets the eye. Whilst scandalous events take place all the time in all corners of the world, there are regimes in operation resorting to cover-up of state-sponsored scandals, and sometimes acknowledgement of their mistakes.

The recent example is set by the UK, finally acknowledging that the government let people die willingly.

But have we yet published a single report that acknowledges the mistakes of our past?

Sri Lanka faced enough bloodbaths throughout the course of time, and appointed commissions, committees and sub-committees on countless occasions to probe the soaring number of casualties in each scenario.

With the 71’ Riots, the 83’ Black July, the 88-89’ Terror, war-crime allegations, the assassination of journalists, the Easter Sunday Massacre, and the most recent Human Immunoglobulin Scandal, the list goes on and analysts and theorists on and off Social Media will probably tell you to ‘blame it on the system, not the leaders.’

Sri Lanka is currently at the plight of an economic crisis and desiring an election heat for a change. Notwithstanding the above, every political figure will pledge before you that they will build this country for future generations to enjoy.

The ‘76-Year Curse,’ as quoted by certain political streams in Sri Lanka, has not only been overlooked, but also constituted short getaways from scandalous events for the regimes that administrated the country throughout the seven-decade period. The so-called committees – rational, independent and apolitical as they claim – make recommendations, so astonishingly within a very short period of time, to establish closure for events that teared down the nation.

But do we have public opinion and a strong collective movement to fight for justice until it is met?

Recently, the Human Rights Office of the United Nations urged the Government of Sri Lanka to publicly apologise for the enforced disappearances that are perceived to have been committed by state security forces and para-military groups backed by the state. Sri Lanka, in its usual tune, denied the allegations, having zero flexibility to such terms and whitewashing the crisis by wooing the 15th commemoration of war victory.

Decades have passed by, and there are still unanswered questions lacking the backing of a strong peoples’ movement for answers to be found upon. Such movement should be executed in a democratic manner.

This, I believe, is the question we should ask from ourselves. Do we have a relentless peoples’ movement to create public opinion? Should we restrain ourselves to the state’s version of the story? A scandal involving the elimination of a human life should be battled against by a strong peoples’ movement, until the last moment, rather than waiting for some committee to administer quick recommendations.

This, I believe, is the lesson to be learned from the ‘contaminated blood’ scandal in the UK. Because contradictory to the theorists’ view of ‘blaming it on the system,’ they fought until the very last moment.

This raises the last question which also freezes the writing of this article, leaving it in a cliffhanger. Did ‘Aragalaya’ actually win?

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