Was Senaka Bibile Murdered?

W. Panditaratna (Sunday Island)

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Senaka Bibile

The article of Vimal Dias which appeared in the Sunday Island of February 24th, while recalling the enormous contribution made by the late Senaka Bibile, as the Chairman of the State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC), bemoans the fact that while on an UNCTAD assignment.

“He was also working on the feasibility of establishing a pool procurement agency for small Caribbean islands to lower drug prices and improve availability. Unfortunately he couldn’t complete his assignment as he died suddenly and some say mysteriously, in British Guyana of a severe heart attack”.

This article was followed by another from Raj Gonsalkorale, which appeared in The Island newspaper of Wednesday 6th, March wherein he states that –

“It is no secret that the Pharmaceutical Industry is next only to the Arms Industry in the world, and they are known to resist any incursions into their empires by whatever means, including unethical means. The suspicion that Professor Bibile’s death in 1976 while working for UNCTAD in the Caribbean, extending and helping to implement his policies which by now had gained international recognition and acceptance, was not due to natural causes and that external forces had a hand in it, lingers amongst some even to date.”

Excerpts from a few pages of the book “Memoirs of Osmund Jayaratne” Professor of Physics of University of Colombo which are appended below, gives details of Senaka Bibile’s life, work and death in Georgetown.

The details of his last rites in British Guyana had been provided by Dr. R.O.B. Wijesekara, another Sri Lankan scientist who had then being living in British Guyana and had been present at the cremation and had even lit the funeral pyre of Senaka Bibile.

“Dr Senaka Bibile Senaka Bibile’s policy of rationalizing drug imports was welcomed by the World Health Organization (WHO), and adopted by several Third World countries like Bangladesh and some countries in the Caribbean region. It was at this point that the WHO, together with the UNDP, invited Senaka to proceed abroad, firstly to Geneva and later to some of the Caribbean countries. He accepted their invitation, the purpose of which was that he should explain his policies to other countries of the Third World.

In the Caribbean region, he made Guyana his headquarters. In the same hotel in which he lived, along with his wife Leela, there also stayed a prominent “person who was a Professor of Medicine in the University of the West Indies. One night Senaka, his wife and this professor were invited out to dinner at a certain hotel. They were naturally served with drinks. Now Senaka had been for some time ailing from a heart condition, and occasionally used to get a very fast heartbeat known as Tachycardia. Soon after he and his wife returned after dinner to their room in the hotel, he developed a very serious attack of Tachycardia. Normally he used to control this by pressing an artery leading to his heart. However, this time, although he adopted this method, the Tachycardia did not cease for several hours. In spite of his protests, his wife Leela rushed to the Professor of Medicine, who lived in the same hotel, and asked him to come and examine Senaka. After doing so, he had a hearty laugh and said that the problem was not with Senaka but with his wife, who was unnecessarily excitable. The Professor returned to his room, but Senaka’s condition became worse from hour to hour. In desperation, Leela summoned an ambulance, and took him promptly to a general hospital in Guyana. In the ambulance, looking up at his wife, Senaka, realizing the condition he was in, whispered to his wife, “I am sorry Leela, but this time I do not think I will live.” To admit Senaka to the hospital, so much red tape had to be undergone. The result was that before he could be admitted to a ward Senaka passed away.

It was later discovered that the Professor who had examined him first had close links with many multinational pharmaceutical companies. It was also so surmised after his death, by other friendly doctors in the region, that a couple of drops of digitalis, dropped into a glass of liquor could have easily produced the symptoms that Senaka had suffered from.

A close friend and colleague, Dr R.O.B. Wijesekara, another brilliant scientist unrecognized in his own country and then living in Georgetown, Guyana, wrote thus of the last rites accorded to Senaka Bibile:

I drove with another young Sri Lankan University lecturer to the cremation. It was 15 miles from Georgetown, on a beach, that the remains of this loveable fellow became, as he would have liked to say: CO2 + H2O and CaCO2 and K2CO3, etc. It was a home-built pyre — all logs. On one side was the concrete sea wall, which stretches along the entire coast from Georgetown.

There were thick South American woods, and the roots of trees were washed away by the oscillating tide while the massive trees stood their ground. A Hindu `cremator’ chanted ‘Shanthi’ a few times, and the pyre was lit by one of the Guyanese colleagues of ‘Bibs’ and myself. The camphor erupted in flames. Instead of the petroleum used in Sri Lanka, the Guyanese used ghee. In a few hours it was a flaming memory, and I have not yet overcome the daze which began with a telephone call from Gus Lee (one of Senaka’s Guyanese colleagues), and which still lingers painfully as I write at home.”

The readers could judge for themselves the cause of the death of the late Senaka Bibile in British Guyana.