Sri Lanka’s misplaced COVID -19 response policy kills promising Tamil journalist

By Siva Parameswaran

Pragas Gnanapragasam deserved to live longer.

This young Tamil journalist became a victim of the mismanaged vaccination mechanism in Sri Lanka and lost his life due to the deadly Covid-19 on Thursday (2).

The death of the 26-year-old Jaffna based journalist shocked millions of Tamils around the globe with tributes and condolences started to pour immediately- after his sudden demise was known Thursday evening.

Such was his energetic social media activity his death was flashed across the media in Australia, Britain and Canada apart from the North and East Tamil media in Sri Lanka.

Pragas Gnanapragasam never sought sympathy out of his physical ailment, muscular dystrophy. He rather overcame it with much zeal and enthusiasm.

Muscular dystrophy

Colombo based senior journalist Sulochana Ramiah confirmed in one of her tweets, quoting Prof Harendra de Silva and Dr. Lakkumar Fernando, that a person with muscular dystrophy can take the vaccine. 

“I checked with Dr Lakkumar Fernando and he said a person with muscular dystrophy condition can take the vaccine”, she tweeted.

The government says they vaccinate journalists on priority, but that was not the case with this young journalist. A day before his demise, on Wednesday (1) Pragas tweeted, “I tested positive for Covid 19 today after five days fever. Now health normally good, I muscular dystrophy patient, but so far not vaccinated me”.

The same day in another tweet he said, “yes, but they saw me as muscular dystrophy patient, my father asking to the MOH office but they checked my medical reports and told can’t vaccine.’

His tweet has made it amply clear that he was denied the vaccination by medical authorities overseen by a task force led by the military.

The National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID - 19 Outbreak led by army chief General Shavendra Silva, an alleged war criminal, has laid down directives and decided who is vulnerable and not without any rationale. 

The Sri Lankan Military and the long list of ministers and their family members were accused of putting themselves in the priority category under some guise, while field workers were left behind.

Strong and forward thinking

Pragas was well aware of this long-standing health issues. Nevertheless, he was brave enough to brush it aside and continue his journalistic contribution for the rights and welfare of the war affected people in the North - East. His nimble fingers were too fast and he was very active on the social media and was an unavoidable source of information for journalists including me.

I had known Pragas for a reasonable time and never has he said 'NO', when we needed some information to be checked. His contacts were amazing and had details on his fingertips. While working on sensitive stories he always went a mile ahead in collecting the information and checking its veracity.

Pragas was so strong and forward thinking that recently he made his choice of donating his body for medical research at the Jaffna university when he puts down his pen for ever. He wanted to be a change himself which he practiced rather than preaching. The Jaffna university wrote back to him saying he needs to follow certain procedures and fill up the necessary forms. Alas, a courageous journalist’s last wish sadly couldn’t be realised.

The mismanagement of the vaccination policy, overseen by the military, which is all pervasive on the island resulted in the death of this young and talented journalist. It’s really ridiculous that a young person that too from the vulnerable war affected community who has an incurable disease doesn’t fall under the high-risk category.

Continued militarisation and mismanagement of handling the COVID19 situation in the island has cost so many lives and it continues.

Pragas was so too good and had a sharp journalistic understanding not withstanding his physical limitations. We will really miss a pleasant and warm young journalist.

Rest in power, 'Thambi.'



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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