by Amnesty International, London, June 10, 2021
Index number ASA 37/4262/2021
As several countries with access to vaccines lift restrictions and seem to be coming out of the pandemic, Covid-19 continues to pose significant challenges in South Asia and beyond, and Sri Lanka has proved to be no exception. Amnesty International has found that with ad hoc plans for vaccine distribution, challenges in procuring the required quantity of vaccines, and serious failures in addressing the needs of most at-risk populations like prisoners and factory-workers, the Sri Lankan government has failed to guarantee the right to health. The roles of the government of Sri Lanka and the international community are critical at this juncture, when Sri Lanka is struggling with a third wave of the virus, and the number of daily cases have risen to more than 2500 a day in a population of just 21 million people.1 In contrast, Taiwan has registered 218 cases a day in a population of 23 million, 2 and Burkina Faso has registered zero cases a day in a population of 21 million. 3
Sri Lanka is obliged under international law to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines are available, accessible, affordable and of good quality for everyone without discrimination. As the virus rips through neighbouring India and other South Asian countries like Nepal, a surge of new cases has also been recorded in Sri Lanka,4 with a total of 213,396 confirmed cases and 1,843 deaths recorded since the beginning of the pandemic last year. 5 Sri Lanka’s Health Promotion Bureau issued a public warning of a Coronavirus breakout after the April New Year festive season.
6 Amnesty International is concerned that the Covid-19 vaccination drive in Sri Lanka is falling short of both resources and planning, and the country is facing challenges in ensuring access to all.
Sri Lanka started its vaccination drive on 29 January 2021, only after India gifted 500,000 does of the AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India, as a part of India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.7 The vaccines were administered to healthcare workers on the frontline of Covid-19 prevention as well as the Tri-Forces and Police. 8 In late February, a second batch of 500,000 doses of the vaccine (ordered under an agreement between the State Pharmaceuticals Corporation (SPC) of Sri Lanka and the Serum Institute of India) arrived in the country.
9 The Sri Lankan government SPC also placed an order for 10 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India at a cost of USD 52.5 million, 10 which is yet to arrive owing to delays. Given the production delays with the AstraZeneca vaccines, Sri Lanka then procured the Sinopharm and Sputnik V vaccines and began their administration.
1 Health Promotion Bureau, COVID-19 Live Situational Analysis Dashboard of Sri Lanka, available at, https://hpb.health.gov.lk/covid19-
2 Worldometer, daily Covid-19 case numbers for Taiwan 8 June available at, https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/taiwan/
3 WHO, daily Covid-19 case numbers for Burkina Faso 8 June 2021 available at, https://covid19.who.int/region/afro/country/bf
4 The number of daily cases spiked up to 3623 on 19 May – the highest daily number of Covid-19 positive cases reported in the country, while more than 2000 cases are being recorded on consecutive days since the 10 May, according to government figures available at https://hpb.health.gov.lk/covid19-dashboard/
5 Health Promotion Bureau, COVID-19 Live Situational Analysis Dashboard of Sri Lanka, available at, https://hpb.health.gov.lk/covid19- dashboard/
6 Health Promotion Bureau on Twitter on 20 April 2021: “Rapid increase of hospital admissions requiring intensive care & identification of a new strain of the virus have raised concerns of accelerated disease spread. We urge the public to renew the prescribed behaviours to stop the disease spread. #COVID19 #SriLanka #COVID19LK”, available at, https://twitter.com/HPBSriLanka/status/1384507030858125312?s=20
7 Hindustan Times, PM Modi reiterates Sri Lanka’s importance to India’s Neighbourhood First policy, 13 March 2021, available at, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/pm-modi-reiterates-sri-lanka-s-importance-to-india-s-neighbourhood-first-policy101615629879554.html
8 Daily FT, COVID-19 vaccine to be provided at no cost to citizens: Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, 27 January 2021, available at, http://www.ft.lk/news/COVID-19-vaccine-to-be-provided-at-no-cost-to-citizens-Dr-Sudarshini-Fernandopulle/56- 712192 bclid=IwAR0ddA7tVY2fhSZxS14Qibr2TEyJPgcK67L2hqdLbGP3WbHeEIRFNPjS77E Amnesty International Public Statement www.amnesty.org
In addition to these bilateral contracts, Sri Lanka received 264,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine as a part of the COVAX facility on 7 March 2021. 11 This makes up for a small part of COVAX’s commitment to provide 8.4 million vaccine doses to cover 20% of Sri Lanka’s population at no cost to the government. 12 The remainder is expected later in 2021.13 According to government reports, a total of 925,242 persons have been vaccinated with the first dose of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine so far, while 353,789 have received their second dose. 14 1,033,028 people have received the first jab of the Sinopharm vaccine and 166 have received the second.15 A total of 64,986 have received the Sputnik V vaccine.16 Added up, this amounts to 9.6% of Sri Lanka’s 21 million population having received the first jab of the any of the vaccines, while another 1.7% have received both jabs…[continues]