Sinhala and Tamil New Year in Santa Barbara, California

Horanage family in Santa Barbara celebrated the Bakh Maha Sinhala and Tamil New year last week Honoring the Sri Lankan traditions that we usually carry out back home.

Aruni Boteju oldest of the Horanage family hosted and prepared the beautiful Avurudhu table with a variety of Sri Lankan food for the family and used all traditional Sri Lankan table decor with Go Green concept, followed by Aurudhu rituals and customs.

“We are immigrants and our children are the first generation who were born in the United States. It is our responsibility to teach and pass our culture and traditions to the next generation, so they can pass it on to theirs”. Said Aruni Boteju. She also said “we all have our preferences and the way we live our lives, but we must always remember who we are and where we came from”.

When we celebrate and honor our customs with pride, others join and enjoy and learn about our culture. This is the beauty of diversity.

“We must be proud of who we are”.

SUCCESS STORY!! Nirosh Mataraarachchi, First-Generation Sri Lankan-American, accepted to over 5 Top-Ranked U.S. Medical Schools, including full-ride Scholarships to the Nation’s Top Schools.

Nirosh Mataraarachchi was born and raised in Los Angeles, California to immigrant parents, Piyal and Janitha Mataraarachchi. Starting from his early childhood and beyond, Nirosh cultivated a passion for teaching, a desire to connect with others, and an understanding of social determinants of health.

As a future physician, Nirosh intends to connect with each patient to first understand who they are as people and what other factors in their life are contributing to their diagnoses. He hopes that by meeting the diverse needs of his patients, he can then empower them to make informed decisions.

Today, Nirosh has accomplished great feats and achievements. Nirosh graduated John Burroughs high school at the top of his class in 2016 and was granted several acceptances to universities throughout the U.S. Nirosh attended the University of California, (UC) San Diego, due to its highly ranked Biology program (#1 in Neurosciences at the time), the vast amount of research in both Basic Science and Translational work, the vast array of clinical opportunities available, a generous scholarship, and its proximity to family/home.

Nirosh was highly involved during his four years at UC San Diego. He was President of a Pre-Health organization on campus where he founded several initiatives to help educate underserved youth on health-risk behaviors as he led a committee of undergraduate students to collaborate and develop seminars. Furthermore, Nirosh was the Founding President of the inaugural Sri Lankan Students Association (SLSA) on his campus, and he helped co-found several SLSAs at sister UC campuses, in an effort to bolster community and belonging for other Sri Lankan students pursuing higher education. Following his passion for education and teaching, Nirosh was also a Teaching Assistant for three years, where he helped teach several upper-division Biology and Psychology courses at UC San Diego, like Metabolic Biochemistry, Human Physiology, Cell Biology, and Behavioral Neuroscience. Nirosh also continued playing American Football, as he did for all four years of high school, and cutting his roommates’ hair throughout college as a Barber. Outside of his extensive extracurricular involvements, Nirosh thoroughly enjoyed his time volunteering in several hospitals and working as both a Medical Scribe and Clinic Coordinator.

Remarkably, Nirosh demonstrated incredible academic excellence as he completed his Bachelor of Science degree in Physiology and Neuroscience with a Minor in Psychology within an extraordinary three years in 2019, graduating Summa Cum Laude, the highest academic distinction placing him in the top 1% of his class. Nirosh received several honors and awards during his undergraduate, including the highly competitive Gabriele Wienhausen Biological Sciences Award, entrance into the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society, and the Top Honor’s Research Presentation Award at the 2019 Biology Research Showcase. Within one year after graduating, Nirosh completed a Master of Science degree in Biology with emphases in Molecular and Biomedical Science at UC San Diego in 2020, where he continued his Senior Honors Thesis into his Master’s Thesis on Genetic Cardiac Disease. Upon entrance to his Master’s program, Nirosh was awarded the 2019 Diversity Fellowship due to the barriers he overcame in pursuit of his education and his efforts to improve educational access and quality of life for diverse groups at UC San Diego.

Nirosh’s most recent and commendable achievements have been his acceptances to the most prestigious and highly ranked medical schools in the US. To this date, entrance into U.S. medical schools remains the most difficult and competitive admissions process in the U.S. as many elite institutions have acceptance rates of less than 4%, accepting only the top applicants who demonstrate academic excellence, dedication to service, and a passion for medicine and other interests. Nirosh was accepted to 6 medical schools, 3 of which are of the U.S. News & World Report 2022 Top 10 Medical Schools. Within his acceptances, Nirosh was selected for the most prestigious merit-based Geffen Scholarship at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) David Geffen School of Medicine and the highest scholarship awarded at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine, both of which fully cover the cost of attendance, which includes tuition, fees, and cost of living. For reference, UCLA received 11,778 applications, 175 students were selected to matriculate, and only 25% of the incoming class were selected for the prestigious Geffen Scholarship. Both UCLA and UCSF Schools of Medicine have acceptance rates close to 2%.

Nirosh is beyond honored, grateful, and ecstatic to have the opportunity to attend medical school and to treat his future patients holistically. Despite his own apparent aptitude and extraordinary work ethic, Nirosh attributes his successes to his overwhelmingly supportive family and mentors, as he states “I am nothing without the support and love of my parents, peers, and mentors. My parents, specifically, emphasized the importance of education, what it means to work hard, and how to show compassion and care to all. Their incredible sacrifices and teachings have helped shape who I am today.”

After much thought, Nirosh will be attending the UCSF School of Medicine, one of the most, if not the most highly ranked medical school in the nation. UCSF was ranked #2 in primary care, #4 in research, and was the only medical school ranked in the top 5 of all 8 specialty areas surveyed. Nirosh plans to practice in Internal Medicine first, before possibly specializing in Cardiology, Gastroenterology, or Oncology. Of significance, UCSF was ranked #1 for its Internal Medicine residency program, in front of Harvard University. To this date, UCSF has remained the #1 public university medical school in the US for over ten consecutive years due to its excellent clinical education, extraordinary faculty, and world-renowned research.

We share this news, today, in an effort to not only showcase and congratulate our fellow Lankan, Nirosh Mataraarachchi, on his incredible achievements but to also inspire and motivate other Sri Lankan students aspiring to attend medical school and practice medicine in the U.S. Please welcome us in congratulating Nirosh!

Feel free to reach out if you have any questions.


MIDWEEK REVIEW Convincing storytelling with engaging dialogue and three-dimensional characters

Reviewed by Nandasiri (Nandi) Jasentuliyana
Former Deputy Director-General, United Nations.

10:34′ is a dramatic love story of a poetic and tender quality written with a deep respect for both the beauty and the danger to our blue planet seen from space as a vulnerable blob in the vast universe.

It is a contemporary romance that follows a woman, a committed environmentalist, as she navigates her life among men with differing feelings of the imperative of conservation stewardship.

This book is Gratiaen Award winner Aditha Dissanayake’s fourth novel, by far the best. This book is enjoyable to read due to the simplicity of the prose style and vividness of imagination. Though simple but thoughtful, the story is fun enough, and the unexpected twists and turns keep the reader engaged.

It is the story of two people finding love in unusual circumstances, albeit differently than either of them intended.

Aditha narrates a 24-year-old schoolteacher’s unexpected detour of accompanying her banker fiancé and migrating to New Zealand. The deviation begins when Kumi alights the morning Udarata Menike to visit her hometown in the fictional village of Maliyadda on the banks of the Kothmale Oya. She goes there directed by her Uncle in London to make the final arrangements to sell her grandfather’s ancestral property. Kumi finds the dilapidated property a piece of heaven on earth. Lush greenery with a creek flowing through the property has become the perfect home for all that nature creates. An ideal home for her as well she realises. She could hardly tear herself off from the allure of the place to return to Colombo, which she must, to see her fiancé off. He was going ahead to settle affairs in the new country they were moving to before Kumi arrives.

During her vacation to her ancestral village, abandoning her plans to stay at the bed and breakfast place where she had an eventful night with an unexpected visitor, she moves into the abandoned house that had once belonged to her grandparents. Kumi also struck a friendship with Vino Coomaraswamy, an editor of a publishing house in Lancaster, on holiday in Maliyadda, searching for his roots.

On return to Colombo, she finds her favourite mango tree, that shaded her room and to its rustling sounds which she fell asleep in the night, had been a victim of the insensitive confidant who failed to understand that perhaps her first love is nature. Incensed by the developments that followed and tugged by the spell cast over her by the sanctuary in Maliyadda, she makes an unintended quick return to the place she had felt at peace.

There, she finds comfort in her friends Vino and a Professor turned recluse whom she had met on her previous visit. The Professor was intruding on the property to record the often-ignored weeds and lesser-known plants in the mid-country for his next book.

Abandoning her plans to move to New Zealand with her urbanized banker boyfriend, she decides to make home the abandoned house that had once belonged to her grandparents. But in addition to preventing her Uncle from selling the land, Kumi must also prove to the Professor that she has no wish to harm the plants that he so loves.

Easily the best part of the book is how, as the story unravels, it becomes clear that Kumi and the Professor progress towards saving not only nature but themselves from their toxic relationships and past mistakes.

An essential aspect of the book is the author’s tender, discerning look at nature that is ever-present and is the thread that runs through the novel.

Aditha makes her characters very vibrant and three-dimensional and true to life. The main characters are compelling and enigmatic. Kumi is beautifully drawn – warm, bold, outspoken, intelligent, and kind to all living beings, whether human or part of nature, the type of character that carries an endearing story. Vividly portrayed, the men around her – Nadush, bright and bold as an up-and-coming banker, Kavan, intelligent and warm as a professor, and Vinoo, intelligent and outspoken as an editor would be.

The characters in this book are remarkable. The author shows a deep understanding of their roles and places them cleverly to keep the story moving. There are also secondary characters introduced for a few cameos. Even some of those who barely appear have a chance to shine, which tell us a lot about the storytelling.

The book is sprinkled with enjoyable dialogue, which is hard to write – and extremely hard to write well. Two people merely talking are not always engaging on the page, no matter how scintillating the dialogue. Novel writers are not screenwriters whose story is brought to life by an entourage of directors, actors, sound engineers, cinematographers. A novelist must describe the setting and provide all five senses for the reader. Readers will not know what things look like unless you show them.

Aditha’s text reads like a screenplay. The conversation between Kumi and the Tuk Tuk driver is such that a reader can hear it as if spoken aloud; the words do not lie inert on the page. When discourse flows, it’s easy to read and understand; it’s funny, revealing, poignant, and devastating all in one single sentence. The story is interspersed with engaging dialogue, and that’s part of what makes it effective. The dialogue is so catchy, so snappy, so utterly say-able, that the story could easily be made into a movie…

This is a wonderfully written novel with a captivating story that touches your heart, an engaging plot with so many twists, and endearing characters who were believable. The book affirms the depth of humanity’s relationship with nature and adds particular urgency to the cause of protecting the environment that nourishes all living beings. It is a delightful book.

Preethi Gunaratne: SL born scientist who has dedicated her life to fight the cancer from every possible corner…

Prof. Preethi Gunaratne, Ph.D. who can be introduced as a geneticist and a genomicist at the same time, is an Assistant Professor of Biology and Biochemistry at the University of Houston, with a dual appointment at the Human Genome Sequencing Centre and the Baylor College of Medicine, Department of Virology.

It is an honor for the Sri Lankans that she has been a part of the Human Genome Project, which is a 13-year effort (1993-2003), whose goal has been to completely map and understand the entire human genome.

She who has developed her passion in the field of Molecular biology wanted to put her skills to find a solution to attack cancer. Currently, most of her research work is focused on ovarian cancer, which is the fifth leading cause of death in women and, the most common gynecological malignancy.

Interestingly, her research team has made a very exciting discovery that micro RNAs can specifically kill the 90% of malignant cells that lead to tumor growth. And the rest of the 10% can be destroyed by developing personalized medicine therapies that mainly exploit RNA therapies. Simply, it is like when a patient walks into the medical center, his/ her genome is fully analyzed and then the therapies are developed in accordance.

Also, Prof. Gunaratne founded NEXTmiRNA Technologies, a company dedicated to developing tumor suppressor microRNAs for cancer. Prof. Gunaratne completed her Bachelor’s degree in Zoology (Honors) from the University of Colombo and earned her Ph.D. in Genetics and Development from the Cornell University, Newyork.

Moreover, she can be mentioned as a key personality from SL, who empowers the women scientists to go and just conquer the world; it is the passion, a bit of motivation, and dedication you always need to pursue.

“Heights by great men & women reach and kept were not attained by sudden flight but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night”

Written By:-Henry Wordsworth-
for more information:

Second Video Attached! SL Ambassador to Japan H.E Sanjiv Gunasekera speaks with Japan TV

Sanjiv Gunasekara was born on 18 May, 1965 in Colombo Sri Lanka and attended Royal College, Colombo from Grade 1 through 12 and was a Senior Prefect in 1983 and 1984. He won the Kumaran Gunaratne Trophy for the 200m and was part of schools’ athletic team and the under 19, 2nd eleven cricket team from 1982 & 83. He played the Trumpet and was a member of the school cadet band that won numerous awards for all island best band and was chairman of the Buddhist Brotherhood. He was accepted into Sri Jayewardenepura University and received a Mahapola Scholarship on merit.

He also received a 4-year scholarship to attend university in the U.S.A where he graduated in with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics & Management and International Relations in 3 ½ years. Sanjiv received his MBA in Finance while working in 1994.

After graduating from university, Sanjiv started working as a staff accountant in the private sector, and within 14 years climbed the American corporate ladder being CFO of the last two companies and CEO of the last company he worked.

In 2002, Sanjiv began working full-time for the real Estate Development company he founded in 1998. He started this company with a meager US $20,000 and today it has operations in three countries, 8 cities and over $60 in million Assets under its management. His businesses also include Real Estate construction and Private school operations. Today, his school operation encompasses over 12 locations spanning metropolitan Los Angeles, California employing over 270 teachers and staff.

Sanjiv has been involved in numerous charitable organizations serving Sri Lanka and was awarded SriAmerican of the Year in 2008 by Sri Lanka Foundation. Sanjiv is one of the founding members and current President of the Lankarama Buddhist Institute, one of the largest Buddhist institutions in Los Angeles. Sanjiv was instrumental in raising over US $250,000 for the 2004 tsunami victims in Sri Lanka. He built a model village, Nelumpokunawatta Induruwa, that consisted of 39 houses and a 32-ft replica of the Avukana Buddha statue. This project was completed in 153 days and was the second such project to be handed over to tsunami victims. He also built a community center for the village to have Sunday School and tuition classes. During the past 20 years, the Sanjiv and Manil Gunasekara Trust has sponsored over 120 students to help attend school and university. They are proud to have helped produce four doctors and many other professionals to be productive citizens to society.

Last year, Sanjiv was personally responsible for renovating a 700-year-old temple that houses over 20 monks, ranging from 6-years near Sella Kataragama called “Sadagirigala vehara”. He is also the executive committee member of Ranaviru Foundation USA that has raised over US $150,000 to fund long-term housing for Sri Lanka’s disabled veterans and is also an executive committee member for the Foundation of Goodness that raised over $250,000 to build a sports complex in northern Sri Lanka.

Sanjiv left his businesses in Los Angeles and assumed his new position as “Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Japan” in January 2021 to serve his mother land.

Click on the link below to watch the second interview video/ Japan TV
Click on the link below to watch the first interview video/ Japan TV

Sri Lanka America Association Notice of 48th Annual General Meeting

Notice of Annual General Meeting

This is to inform you that the 48th Annual General Meeting [AGM] will be held on Saturday, April 24, 2021, at noon at the residence of Past President Senani Abeyagoonasekera located at Hidden Lake, 8395 Sedan Ave, West Hills, CA 91304.

The outdoor AGM will be conducted to the order and compliance set out by the Los Angeles County for the Personal Protection Measures as listed below.

v Correctly wear a cloth face covering to prevent disease spread, when outside your home and around others that are not part of your household.

v Avoid confined spaces – Actively stay away from indoor spaces that don’t allow for the easy distancing of at least 6ft between you and others.

v Avoid close contact – Stay at least 6 feet away (3 or more adult steps) from all other people who are not part of your household, especially while talking, eating, and drinking.

v Wash or sanitize your hands often.
v Clean frequently touched items regularly.
v If you are sick, or you have been in contact with someone who is sick with COVID-19 or has symptoms of COVID-19 stay home, and away from others.

The agenda of the AGM is as follows.

v Reading and adoption of the Minutes of the last AGM held on October 24, 2020, at 26857 Wyatt Lane, Stevenson Ranch, CA 91381.

v View and discussion on the reports submitted by the Secretary and the Treasurer for the fiscal year 2020.

v Any other business of which notices have been given.
v Appreciation to the outgoing President Sondra Wise Kumaraperu.
v Oath taking ceremony to the incoming President.
v Group Picture.
v No unscheduled business will be entertained at this meeting.

Only the Corporate and Life Members of the Association are eligible to make nominations (sign nomination forms) or accept a nomination. A nomination for the position of Member or Office Bearer of the Executive Committee must be supported and signed by two members who are not the nominee.

A nominee for the position of President or office bearer of the Executive Committee must accept the nomination by signing the acceptance clause on the nomination form.

If there are contested positions, nominees may be required to provide up to a 500-word statement before the AGM, for circulation to the membership in attendance at the AGM. Under these circumstances, nominees will also be provided with an opportunity to briefly address the AGM.

Only the Corporate Financial Members, Life Members and their Families (Spouse and Children between the ages of 18 and 26 years) in good standing of the Association will have voting rights.

Nominations close14 days before the AGM [i.e. on or before April 10, 2021], and the nomination forms must be returned to the Secretary of the Association by email [].

An authentic Sri Lankan lunch will be served along with the cocktail after the adjournment of the meeting.

Please RSVP on or before Wednesday, April 21, 2021, to organize the event efficiently and effectively.

Founding President
Jayam Rutnam

Office Bearers 2020/21

Sondra Wise Kumaraperu
Tel: 818-231-5605

Vice President
Sujeewa Kariyakarawana
Tel: 310-431-5666

Shanmuganthan Vaithilingam
Tel: 213-399-8964
Arjuna Dominic
Tel: 818-723-5296

Immediate Past President
Seruk Indika Pilanamanage
Tel: 818-984-7763

Executive Committee

Dushantha Kurera
Senani Abeyagoonasekera
Sarath Goonetilleke
Mangala Jayakody
Ardni Pelpola
Mano Cabral
Sangeetha Kariyakarawana
Indu Wickramasuriya
Aruna Krishantha
Jude Abeygunaratne
Nedra Abeygunaratne
Samantha Kurera
Trevine Berty Fernando
Charmaine Raffel
Kaushika Geethani
Leslie Thomas
Nadhini Silva
Shirlene Fernando

Sri Lanka America Association of Southern California
A California 501 [c] [3] Non-Profit Organization, founded in 1973

For more information call:
Shanmuganathan Vaithilingam
Tel: 213-399-8964

COVID-19 vaccine is safe – Prof Suranjith Seneviratne

Prof Suranjith Seneviratne, Professor and Consultant in Clinical Immunology and Allergy at the Royal Free Hospital and University College London, dispels some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding COVID-19 vaccines. “All the data point towards the increased and prominent benefits of vaccination. You can look at the data from the countries that have vaccinated more people and that now it is preventing people going to hospital ICUs and dying.”

Following are excerpts:

Why do we need vaccines?

A: In general, if a person gets an infection, the immune system comes into place and produces antibodies and white cells – T cells and B cells. During that process, the cells produce memory and the next time they meet the virus or the bacteria, there will be immune memory which will prevent the person from getting that infection. But, the problem is if you get an infection, some can become very ill or even die. So, what we try to do with vaccines is to mimic a natural infection. For example, rather than allowing a child to get measles, you will get a vaccine to mimic that process so that antibodies and white cells are produced. So, when the child meets the measles virus, that child will not get a severe infection.

Similarly, with SARS-CoV-2, we are trying to mimic the virus and produce antibodies and white cells, so that we would have protection when we meet the virus.

Can you elaborate a bit more about herd immunity?

A: If we have a certain proportion of the population that is immune to the virus, it varies from 60-80 per cent, you will find what is called herd immunity. Then the spread of the virus is limited to a great extent. It would be ideal to get 100 per cent of the people immune, but what we want is to get a certain proportion of the population immune.

It really depends on the rate of transmission. If the transmission is high, you will find the population that has to get immunity is higher. Or, that percentage has to be vaccinated, in order to break the transmission. Otherwise there will not be a sufficient number of people who are not immune to get the infection.

Were these vaccines made as a quick fix, disregarding protocols?

A: If we turn back to March, April, May of last year, people did not have much hope that we would be able to produce a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 because for infections like HIV, Malaria, TB we still don’t have good vaccines. However, the world came together with a lot of different resources and they worked in parallel. Previously, when developing a vaccine, it took about 15 years. The reason was first pre clinical studies had to be done, then the Phase I, wait some time, analyse the data, then do Phase II, then after that Phase III, etc. But, what happened here was things were telescoped together; that is while Phase I was being done, Phase II and III were also starting. While the studies were going on, the regulators were getting the data. Previously, one Phase has to be finished, before even deciding on going through with the next phase.

So they did not cut down on protocols. They did everything right, but all at once?

A: Absolutely. Rather than doing one after the other, they did it all together. So, the human studies were done while the animal studies were going on, which would not have occurred previously.

There are different vaccines available?

A: So, one method is to take the live virus and attenuate it so that it is not dangerous. That’s called a live attenuated. The second is, you can take the virus and kill it – or inactivated. We have had such vaccines for a long period of time. We have live attenuated vaccines like measles, mumps, rubella.

Then there are new methods. One is a subunit vaccine. That is you take parts of the virus, not the whole, and you can inject it to people. Then you have the one that uses the mRNA technique, where you take the genetic material of the virus, and then coat it with lipid and get into the cells. So, this molecule called mRNA it’s generally unstable, and when it goes into the cell it is changed by a part of the cell called ribosome into proteins. And the protein is recognised by the immune system and you make an immune response.

The important fact is that mRNA does not get attached to the DNA, because there is a question if it gets integrated or attached. It doesn’t because it breaks down. That’s the reason why -70 or -20o Celsius has to be used when storing and transporting these vaccines.

The last method is where we use another viral vector. As we say, it’s a carrier. The Oxford vaccine, the AstraZeneca vaccine, used a chimpanzee adenovirus – a virus that causes colds in chimpanzees – it has no chimpanzee material, just the virus. They took this virus and put the spike protein part of the SARS-CoV-2 into it. When it is taken to the cell then the protein is produced, and then you find that the immune system recognises it. That is the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.

You said there is no chimpanzee material in AstraZeneca. Is there pig material or cow material in this vaccine?

A: No, there is no pig material. Absolutely no human or animal material in vaccines.

Are there any chips in the vaccine where that Government can monitor your movements?

A: Absolutely not! It doesn’t come into the manufacturing process. Absolutely not.

Can this vaccine cause cancer?

A: So far, there is no signal, we know it’s been a short period, but they have been using mRNA vaccines actually for cancer treatment because that is where it was trialled. We would like to follow all these vaccines and look for any signals. But, there is no signal at the moment.

Because there are different types of vaccines around, some people find it difficult to trust the vaccines.

A: We cannot manage to vaccinate the whole world with one vaccine. You need several types of vaccines. No company can produce so many vaccines. One important thing from someone who is working in the field, who would not, as a scientist, as a clinician we would not accept things which are subpar for our patients. And, we know by looking at the information that has been released that the vaccine trials have been conducted in the way it should be. They are being looked at in detail by the different regulators, the country’s regulators, and they spend hours on end to see that it has been done properly.

Are all these vaccines in the higher safety margins?

A: Exactly. The important thing is we always talk about the vaccines that have been approved. But, we must remember that in Australia there was the CSL vaccine, which was found to be problematic. It was stopped. Pharmaceutical companies in the UK and France manufactured a vaccine, which was again found to be not effective. It was also stopped. We only hear about the vaccines that have really been approved.

Are all the vaccines that have been approved very safe?

A: We as clinicians and scientists go through the publications. But the regulators have the actual primary data from these different patients and they have gone in detail. And, it’s across the regulators. I mean, you have the British regulators, the European regulators, WHO came out telling that AstraZeneca could be given to all ages. Then you have the U.S. regulator, FDA, which is not an easy regulator to please. I mean, they’re very stringent. These vaccines have gone through these regulators. It’s not that someone is just saying that this vaccine should be taken.

Is there a vaccine that is specifically for the developing world?

A: Some of the vaccines require special storage and transportation conditions. This is difficult to meet in certain areas in Asia and Africa. Secondly, some of the RNA vaccines cost far more to get compared to viral vector vaccines. AstraZeneca is given to the world at a cost. It’s about USD 3 per dose. Also, the Oxford vaccine is licensed through the Serum Institute of India, which is manufacturing it. This is the one that is being now used in Sri Lanka, where they use it on medical personnel, and that vaccine can be stored at 4-8 degrees in the fridge. Therefore, for countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives, that is a wonderful combination of being low cost, effective vaccine and that it can be stored in the fridge rather than needing special storage facilities.

The Serum Institute of India is one of the biggest manufacturers of vaccines in the world. It’s like a vaccine factory in the world. This is a UK licensed vaccine, which is produced in India. It’s also being given to the neighbouring countries.

What percentage of the world needs to be vaccinated?

A: At least 60 to 70 per cent to get herd immunity. Initially they will focus on high risk groups, and then move on to the other groups.

If we don’t vaccinate, what percentage of people might die?

A: You can see the number of people who have died. But, more than a million. In addition to deaths, it is affecting health services. We are finding it impossible to manage some of the ITUs.

Can pregnant women and children be vaccinated?

A: Yes, pregnant mothers who are in the high risk group such as healthcare workers can have the vaccine. It is safe for pregnant mothers. It has still not been licensed for children because the trials were over the age of 18.

Will the vaccine work for the new variants?

A: There is the new UK variant, the new South African variant, the Brazilian, the Los Angeles, and now other additional variants of the UK variant. There are few things you look with regard to a variant. Does it increase transmissibility, does it increase infection, severity of the infection, does it affect the testing, and does it affect the vaccine response. So far, what has been found is increased transmissibility by a lot of these different variants. However, most of the vaccines can manage the UK variant. But, the South African variant is the troubling variant. Some of the lab and clinical work is showing that the vaccines may not be as effective. We know about the small trial in Oxford vaccine in South Africa where they found it was not very protective for mild to moderate infections in South Africa.

There are a number of misconceptions surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine. One of them is that smokers and those who consume alcohol should not get vaccinated. Is this correct?

A: Absolutely not. Smokers belong to the high risk category. Some Western countries, especially the U.S., have prioritised smokers because they are in the higher risk group for getting severe symptoms.

Can the vaccine cause infertility?

A: This is a very common concern among young couples. But, this has absolutely no truth. The vaccine is very safe; it cannot affect the reproductive system in any way. There seems to be a lot of misconceptions regarding the COVID-19 vaccines, even among health professionals. Therefore, it is important to get correct information.

After getting the vaccine, will a person test positive for COVID-19?

A: You won’t test positive in the PCR test. That is very important because some people want to travel and they want to ensure that they’re negative. The important thing is the lab should get the correct antibody test and the general public should not worry about the technicalities.

Will there be allergic reactions?

A: There have been some cases of allergic reactions when it came to mRNA vaccines. But, when it came to AstraZeneca vaccine, allergic reactions have not come to focus as a major issue.

What are the side effects of taking this vaccine? And will they get worse with the second dose?

A: All medications and vaccines produce mild side effects. But, we try to mitigate those effects and ensure that they are not severe. So that risk benefit is very much in the favour rather than any side effect component. With this vaccine you will get local tenderness, swelling, fever, some chills, headache, fatigue, etc. But the important thing is, from observations around the world, those are classified as mild to moderate and they recovered very quickly. We wouldn’t want any severe adverse effects. So far, the observation is these vaccines are not producing that.

Do those who have already got the COVID-19 infection and have recovered still need to get the vaccine?

A: You are expected to get the vaccine whether you had COVID or not. That’s important. If they already have immune response, a vaccine dose will strengthen that immunity. What I would advise such patients, is to take paracetamol and antihistamine. They do not affect the immune response. They only reduce the reactogenicity.

How safe it is to travel after getting the two doses of the vaccine? Can people avoid the quarantine?

A: The important thing to remember is we have to remember that the vaccine efficacy has been worked out against getting the symptomatic disease. The amount of data on the carriage of the virus and transmission is still limited. Oxford has tried to do that and it has shown that PCR positivity has reduced. There is a positive direction from there with regards to reducing transmission. Even after getting the vaccine you have to follow proper social distancing, wearing masks, and travel will open at the appropriate time once a certain number of the population has been vaccinated, because we’re striving for the 60-70 per cent to create herd immunity. The important thing is, just because you get the vaccine doesn’t mean tomorrow you should get rid of the mask and have big gatherings.

By Vindya Amaranayake
Ceylon Today

SLF 2012 Award Winner for “Outstanding Performance by Young Professional, Melony Mahaarachchi-SpaceX and NASA Mars 2020 Engineer and how she became a Real-Life Rocket Scientists

“Within my first three months as SpaceX, I was in charge of rocket engine electrical cables. My heart was pounding and I wanted to run and come home – it was a huge responsibility. ” – Melony Mahaarachchi

Melony Mahaarachchi is a prolific mechanical, robotics, and rocket engineer. She came to the United States with her husband and two young children from Sri Lanka, and built her career completely from scratch after graduating from UCLA with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Melony has worked at SpaceX, Boeing, and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on the Mars Rover 2020 mission. At SpaceX, Melony worked very closely with the one and only Elon Musk on Merlin Engine design team for the Falcon 9 rocket. (Read her story on Refinery29)!

Influenced by her own personal and professional experience, she founded a non-profit iSTEM Without Borders in 2015 to empower young women in STEM careers.

In this conversation, we discuss:

What working with Elon Musk was REALLY like at SpaceX Breaking barriers and overcoming adversity in her early life in Sri Lanka.

The importance of asking for what you want and learning how to negotiate
Much, much more…

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SL born physiotherapy expert to escort the medical team of the renowned tennis player to Aussieland…

Kusal Goonawardane, 45-year-old APA titled has been appointed to steer the medical team of the famous tennis player Laura Siegemund, ranked 51 globally.

Goonawardane who had to globetrot since his childhood had also been a Nalandian, completed his higher education at the University of Melbourne and earned his Masters from the University of La Trobe in Australia. He has further mentioned how he received this opportunity. It is that one of his athletes who played tennis has highly applauded him for his work to Laura’s coach, Antonio Zuccus, which eventually he received the opportunity.

Before this opportunity, Kusal Goonawardane has worked with many talented sportsmen and sportswomen as Phoebe Stanley- an Australian rowing champion, top cyclists as Freddy Ovett and Lachy Norris, Katya Crema- a dual winter Olympian, Jo Weston- a netballer so many others.

And this great man who is an expertise in his subject has got few opportunities to serve his motherland, Sri Lanka. He has worked as a consultant in physiotherapy and conducted several training programs for the physios in Sri Lanka. His recent attachment in terms of his service to Sri Lanka, is the conduct of a project just before the COVID-19 outbreak, to dole out the Australian know-how with the physios in SL. And also, back in 2014, he has been contacted by the commander of the Sri Lankan army back then; Daya Rathnayake to train the physios in the army, which ultimately resulted in entry into some of the events in Paralympics and Asian games as a result of the successful completion of his task.

Also, he all this time, who has been watchful of the ups and the downs of the Sri Lankan sports has reasoned them to fulfill with few requirements as accountability among the athletes, expert coaches, and expertise in sports medicine and administration.

With his immense contribution to World sports, he is too instrumental in making proud SL.

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Iconic Singer/Entertainer Desmond De Silva embraces technology to keep his fans spirits up through the pandemic..

With a home studio created, Desmond has continued to entertain his fans through a series of virtual concerts. Created and coordinated by Different Marketing Agency to lift spirits up through the pandemic Desmond has reached many fans, engaging with them in his own inimitable style.

2020 was set to be a packed year for Desmond with engagements here and overseas scheduled in his calendar up to December. Phyllis & Des returned to Sydney after two successive gigs in the UK which had them away and returning just in time to beat travel restrictions.

As the pandemic spread across Europe, the first casualty gigs were the two scheduled in April in Milan & Paris over the Easter season. Flights and venues were cancelled and Des & Phyllis settled into enjoying life at home after years of constant travel.

Des jokes that he now had so much time on his hands that he had resorted to cutting the grass with a pair of scissors!

However, a constant stream of calls from fans around the world desperate for entertainment saw Different Marketing put a program of virtual concerts together which had Desmond in a Studio created at home, putting in the practice and embracing a new way of communicating and entertaining his fans.

‘These concerts are ongoing until this challenging year is out’ says Desmond with planned Christmas specials next month.

‘I am also engaged in laying tracks down for 2 new CDs and am working on a concept created by Different Marketing for an unique concert in Sri Lanka when travel permits. So the enforced travel has provided me with interesting projects that keep me occupied and in touch with my music and my fans’.

The past six years since celebrating his 50 years in music has been increasingly busy. There have been some standout highlights. The Spitfires reunited in 2015 in a “Time is Tight’ tour of Australia. It was an emotional time for the members of the band, Budrin, Hassan, Dalrene, Maxine, Sohan, Felix and Mohan and of course Desmond, got together to practice for a week before the tour. Desmond recalls the 3 weeks fondly as most of the band members were accommodated in his home. Band practice was serious sessions but then fun evenings over drinks and dinners reminiscing on the band’s hey days at Ceylinco were topped with singing and much laughter.

Another highlight was the “Together Again 2018 tour of Australia by Desmond & The Clan. Here again the band members were accommodated with Desmond & Phyllis and music, reminiscing and laughter were the order of the day. Breakfast time had everyone round the table joyously eating a variety of breakfast favourites. Desmond’s speciality was ensuring perfectly cut fresh fruit and a killer Pol Sambol which went well together with the fresh buttered bread rolls bought each day from the Bakery round the corner by Kitta who delighted in a morning stroll to the bakery.

Desmond also recalls the 2 years consecutive Dinner Dances in Nottingham UK hosted by the Dayada Sri Lanka Kidney Foundation. They were both fund raising events that exceeded expectations in guest attendance and the funds that were raised.

An unique event hosted by Suminda Ranatunge for the Sri Lankan community in Dublin, Ireland was another unexpected highlight as many guests had more than a 3 hour drive to attend the event. ‘It was very rewarding to perform to an audience that had made the effort to travel so far and who came to have a good time’ says Desmond. They were not disappointed as Des had them on the dance floor from the moment he got on stage.

Desmond celebrated a significant birthday in 2019 with a concert at the BMICH in Colombo produced by Damayantha Kuruppu. Desmond was keen to use the occasion to lift the spirits of Sri Lankan’s after the Easter Sunday Massacre. This event was special to Desmond as he had the chance to once again perform with Ishan Bahar – the person who inspired him to become a singer.

With the enforced travel restrictions in place there has also been time for quiet reflection. ‘I have had the time to think of the huge body of work I have been fortunate to own. I have had amazingly talented lyric writers who have collaborated with musicians who gave me material to work with and I have been fortunate to amass over 850 Sinhala pop and baila songs. ‘The great Wally Bastian gave me permission to sing his songs…. I felt very humbled’ says Desmond.

‘Arthur Spelderwinde and Derek Cramer were very popular in the late 50’s and 60’s. Derek was so funny and Arthur and Derek were amazingly talented and had the gift of engaging with the audience entertaining them not only in song but also with humour and repartee. They inspired me’.

The Jetliners were popular and the Coconut Grove was the place to be for the popular Sundown Dances. ‘I would watch Ishan Bahar on stage and saw how he had the audience dancing and enjoying his music. I was inspired and thought if he can do it so can I’ says Des.

‘There has been sadness during this time’ says Desmond ‘I said Goodbye to my 95 years old mother who passed away peacefully in Perth’. Due to travel restrictions he and his brother Milroy could not attend her funeral. Desmond is pleased that his mother ‘s 95th birthday celebrations in January 2020 was celebrated over 4 days and it gave the whole family quality time together to celebrate with their mother.

The shock of also having to farewell very close friend and colleague Sandra Jackson with whom he enjoyed singing duets as he says ‘our voices blended so well’. Another heartbreaking shock was the passing away of Hassan Musafer as Desmond says he considered Hassan his little brother. There are fond memories of sharing a room with him during their stint in Bombay as members of the Jetliners. ‘I class Hassan’s drumming as the next best thing to a Metronome’ says Des. We also lost the wonderfully funny and entertaining Ronnie Leitch & the very talented Randy Pieris.

All events scheduled for 2020 have been put on hold due to the restrictions in place and Desmond says that he has regular conversations with Event Organisers around the world and the word is that the party loving Sri Lankans are anxiously awaiting restrictions to be lifted and dinner dances and concerts to be held once again.

Different Marketing Agency has just launched the OFFICIAL Desmond De Silva YouTube channel and Desmond will ensure he uploads new material for the enjoyment of fans.

The world will never forget Christmas 2020. Preparation to celebrate Christmas was undertaken as spirits were dampened as families gatherings were uncertain around the globe. ‘Reaching out to Sri Lankan’s across the globe was something I wanted to do during this difficult Christmas time’ says Desmond. A series of home videos were produced with Desmond singing Christmas favourites to bring the spirit of Christmas back into hearts and homes. The many comments and phone calls received were confirmation that they were timely and well received.

NYE 2020 was extraordinary too as it was the only year Desmond had not been on a stage somewhere bringing in the New Year. This year, a special dinner shared with wife Phyllis, as they watched the Sydney fireworks display was how they welcomed 2021.

I believe we have all grown stronger in all areas of our lives and there is a hopeful promise of a great things ahead.

‘Life has certainly changed…… nothing can be taken for granted. But change brings about innovation and creativity and the entertainment industry will reinvent and thrive once again …. it’s just a matter of time’.

‘Music is the food of Life’!