Healthcare near collapse, but Keheliya downplays crisis By Chrishanthi Christopher

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Waiting to collect medicines at the National Hospital pharmacy. Pic by Akila Jayawardana
Sri Lanka’s healthcare services are reeling from a continuing shortage of a variety of essential pharmaceutical drugs and hospitals are depending on the generosity of Sri Lankans overseas and other donors.

Sri Lanka imports the bulk of its pharmaceutical drugs and the inventory is nearly empty.

Supplies from the Health Ministry’s medical supplies division have dried up and hospitals said last week they are surviving on donations.

For eight months now, donors have been supporting The Lady Ridgeway Hospital for children. The ministry only supplies at times through spot purchases.

Purchases are made in small quantities enough for a month or two and the requirements vary weekly, said director Dr. G. Wijesooriya. “We are often short of antibiotics, anaesthetic, cardiac, and psychiatric drugs. However, we managed, so far.’’

Appeals to overseas donors have been made by individual hospitals and the drugs are been sent through the ministry.

The Apeksha Hospital in Maharagama does not have enough cancer drugs.

Director Aruna Jayasekara said treatment standards have been compromised in the hospital. “We don’t get enough, but we manage with difficulty.’’

The Jaffna Teaching Hospital has been surviving on donations.

Director Dr. Sathiyamoorthy said that mostly substitutes are used and in some cases, patients are asked to buy from pharmacies.

The crisis is worse at suburban and provincial hospitals.

Last week, Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella confirmed this state of affairs and said hospitals are surviving on donations from overseas.

He denied a shortage of vital essential drugs saying that the Chinese grant of US$28 million had been used to supply 14 vital medicines to hospitals.

He attributed the shortage of drugs to increasing demand.

At the ministerial consultation committee meeting in Parliament last week he estimated that there has been a 25% to 30% increase in patients seeking treatment. They all are middle and lower middle income earners who now find it difficult to afford private hospital treatment, he said.

The minister predicted that this state of affairs would continue till December.

He also mentioned the US$200 million Indian credit line allocated for purchases of medicine.

However, the State pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) responsible for the purchases for hospitals said that the process of using the credit line was lengthy and tedious and there are immense delays in getting the orders on time.

It is learnt that over 2,000 orders placed are pending approval at the Indian High Commission for over four weeks.

Hundreds of doctors have also been leaving, compounding the health sector crisis.

The Government Medical Officers (GMOA) last week warned of a shortage of doctors. It said 500 doctors have emigrated in the last few years. Another 800 doctors are due to leave at the end of this year because of the Government’s decision to retire all public servants at the age of 60 years.

Already, around 30 doctors have emigrated.

In response to the GMOA’s call to help mitigate further departures of doctors, the Government has sent out a directive that all Government employees and doctors wishing to travel abroad should obtain approval of the Prime Minister and the relevant line ministry.

Also, it has sent out requests to all foreign diplomatic missions to not approve employment visas to state doctors, except for those who have got approval.

  US Embassy issues health warning to travellers 

The drug shortage in the country has pushed the United States Embassy to issue fresh warnings to its citizenry about travelling to Sri Lanka.

In an updated version of its travel advocacy under the heading health information it has cautioned travellers to carry their own medication when travelling around the country.

It further said that medical facilities outside Colombo is limited and even in the city of Colombo there were only six major hospitals and only three have emergency trauma services.

It warned that serious medical problems may require evacuation to the United States or to the nearest country, Thailand or Singapore where adequate treatment is available.

As such, it has urged travellers to take medical insurance that covers medical evacuation during a time of emergency, before travelling.

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Disclaimer: Healthcare near collapse, but Keheliya downplays crisis By Chrishanthi Christopher - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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