Sri Lankan medicine shortage a death sentence for some
Posted on May 24th, 2022

By Raj Gonsalkorale

A shortage of medicine caused by an economic crisis in Sri Lanka could soon cause deaths, doctors said, as hospitals are forced to postpone life-saving procedures for their patients because they do not have the necessary drugs – Reuters

In a news item titled as above, Reuters have bared what many in Sri Lanka know about and fear. (http://www.adaderana.lk/news/82630/sri-lankan-medicine-shortage-a-death-sentence-for-some-doctors-say)

It is very bad for cancer patients,” said Dr Roshan Amaratunga. Sometimes, in the morning we plan for some surgeries (but) we may not be able to do on that particular day … as (supplies) are not there.” If the situation does not improve quickly, several patients would be facing a virtual death sentence, he said.

A government official working on procuring medical supplies, said about 180 items were running out, including injections for dialysis patients, medicine for patients who have undergone transplants and certain cancer drugs. The official, Saman Rathnayake, told Reuters that India, Japan and multilateral donors were helping to provide supplies, but it could take up to four months for items to arrive.

Sri Lanka imports more than 80% of its medical supplies but with foreign currency reserves running out because of the crisis, essential medications are disappearing from shelves and the healthcare system is close to collapse.

Referring to the ubiquitous queues for petrol and cooking gas, Dr Vasan Ratnasingam, a spokesman for the Government Medical Officers’ Association, said the consequences for people awaiting treatment were so much more dire. If patients are in a queue for drugs, they will lose their lives,”

In this dire situation, the country appoints more cabinet ministers. Political parties like the SJB, JVP, the TNA, SLMC and some other political parties keep jockeying to be ahead in the political race to continue the system that produces them and talk of conditional support for a national unity government. When people are faced with the situation described in the Reuters news item, when they look for firewood to cook their next meal, when they live in the dark for hours every day, these political parties and their priorities are a disgrace to the country. Capable people like Dr Harsha De Silva, Eran Wickramaratne among others, should be in the cabinet to help take Sri Lanka out of the mess it is in, not some failed politicians who have been given posts.

The challenge for every single Sri Lankan is how they are going to live tomorrow, as nothing about it is certain today. The challenge for the politicians is to work together to give some hope for the people about tomorrow.

Sri Lanka probably needs an immediate infusion of say USD 10 Billion to have that better tomorrow, to import drugs, gas, diesel, food and begin living in the light. Export industries have to commence production, the tea industry has to be rejuvenated, small scale traders and industrialists have to recommence their businesses, the hotel industry has to be revived and tourists need to come back, and foreign remittances have to resume.

As the Prime Minister is attempting to do, friendly nations have to be canvassed to participate in a national emergency strategy to infuse the critically needed foreign exchange to do all of above. All political parties must support such a strategy as a priority and not bicker in and outside the Parliament and organize protests.

Negotiations with the IMF for a more longer-term strategy of debt restricting and emergency support must continue but Sri Lankans must know this is not going to happen tomorrow. Restructuring the country’s present debt and potential additional debt that will have to be incurred, (current overseas debt reportedly 56 billion USD, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/DT.DOD.DECT.CD?locations=LK) and this, shown as a per capita figure will be USD 2666 or in rupees at todays exchange rate, Rs 1,013,333. This is saying every Sri Lankan (taken as 21 million people) living in the country today owes Rs 1,013,333 each in foreign debt from the time of their birth. Once debt levels increase, these figures too will increase. The question that should be asked is why a newborn carries a debt of this magnitude and what wrong he or she has done to acquire this sad legacy.

This is the legacy left behind for the country by its political leaders. People should not be fooled by the political parties who are giving false hopes to people and leading them to protest marches and even instigating violence. This is treachery. Neither should the people endorse moves by the government to show that life is normal and they can have as many cabinet ministers as they wish. Life is not normal and what is needed is a small (say 10 member) emergency cabinet to manage the emergency faced by the country.

In regard to the medicine shortages, while several countries, India in particular, and individuals and organizations local and overseas, have helped in raising funds and dispatching supplies, the health department needs to identify a list of items desperately needed, and what might be needed in the next few months. This is easily compiled for the State sector by the health department as they know what is available or not in public hospitals, what is the warehouses, and what is needed. This is yet to happen. Besides this, countries who manufacture drugs in the region like India, Bangladesh, Turkey, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia should be contacted to assisting in supplying the country’s needs for the next 12 months. What is needed is a planned approach and not ad hoc begging arrangements. There needs to be a degree of certainty and not the uncertainty that prevails day in and day out today. If there is such a plan, it will help donors, individuals, and organizations to fit into such a plan.

As regards the private sector, perhaps some funds could be released to procure items from a list of critical items that could be prepared by a committee of experts and /or the arrangements relating to the public sector could be extended to cover such essential items for the private sector.

Neither the President, government ministers or the opposition leader, his parliamentarians nor other opposition political parties seem to have any empathy with the millions of people who are undergoing untold suffering and simply pursuing their own self interests. No wonder people have given up on them and any hope for the future of the country. To the Prime Ministers credit, he seems to be the only politicians showing some genuine interest in finding a solution to the critical situation faced by the country.

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