Appeal for Medicines

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Yesterday (30), our sister paper Mawbima, which caters to the Sinhala readership, carried a story under the heading, ‘Jaishankar intervenes in respect of Peradeniya Hospital’s Surgery Issue’.

To quote excerpts, it said, “Due to the present shortage of medical drugs and equipment, Peradeniya Teaching Hospital’s Hospital Director Dr Arjuna Thilakarathna who sent a directive on Monday (28), calling for a halt in all routine surgeries, however, rescinded that order on Tuesday.

The earlier directive was negated because essential medical drugs and equipment required to conduct surgeries was to be provided by the Health Ministry.

Meanwhile, Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar in a tweet said, that he was “disturbed” by the news and that he would ask India’s High Commissioner in Sri Lanka Gopal Baglay to contact and discuss how India could help Peradeniya Teaching Hospital to overcome its drug shortage.

Nonetheless, Pharmaceuticals State Minister Professor Channa Jayasumana accused Thilakarathna of being politically motivated.  

Ceylon Today, quoting Jayasumana alleged that Thilakarathna’s aim was to embarrass the Government. A probe is to be conducted with regard to the incident. “Surgeries had been temporarily stopped citing a shortage of the anaesthetic drug Neostigmin. Neostigmin is however, available with the Medical Supplies Division (MSD). Thilakarathna has made no attempt to inform the Health Ministry, State Minister or the MSD regarding this shortage,” CT also quoting the State Minister said. Jayasumana accused Thilakarathna of being politically motivated at a time when there was a severe crisis with regard to foreign exchange (FX).

Jayasumana has accepted the fact that there is an FX shortage in the country. A popular brand of a painkiller usually purchased over-the-counter is also unavailable in a number of popular private pharmacies in Colombo, at least till recently also due to this FX crisis. At a press conference held at the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) Headquarters in Colombo on 4 March, this newspaper brought this matter to the notice of CBSL Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal, who however, didn’t respond to this issue.

Meanwhile, Paris based France 24, a French Government owned broadcasting company, in an article filed on Tuesday under the heading ‘Sri Lanka hospitals running out of life-saving drugs’, to quote excerpts said, “Sri Lanka’s State-run hospitals are running out of life-saving medicines due to a shortage of US dollars needed to import essentials as the country reels from a dire economic crisis, officials said Tuesday.

Teaching Hospital Peradeniya which serves a population of 2.4 million people in the Central Province said, it was suspending all routine surgeries and was out of anaesthetic drugs and other essentials for operations.

A key health trade union said, the problem at Peradeniya was common in most State hospitals where suppliers had not been paid for over six months.

A surgeon at the main National Hospital in Colombo said, they were short of many vital medicines and patients requiring human insulin were told to bring their own.

“The situation is very grave and we need a disaster management initiative to deal with the worsening situation,” said Ravi Kumudesh, the head of the Medical Laboratory Technologists Association (MLTA).

He said, they are unable to carry out diagnostics as most chemicals and solutions needed for their tests are not freely available at State hospitals.

Meanwhile, the Government said, it allowed suppliers, hit by higher costs, to hike prices of all medical devices by 30 per cent, including stents for heart patients.

Sri Lankans are forced to spend long hours to buy food, fuel and even medicines as the dollar shortage have led to scarce imports in the country’s worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.

Whether Jayasumana denies it or not there is at least a shortage of medical drugs and related ancillaries caused by the country’s FX crisis. Jaishankar has stepped into fill the breach. But more needs to be done. The Government, together with the President and the health authorities should meet, discuss and prioritise ‘urgent’ medical supplies that are in short supply because of the country’s dollar crisis and place this wish list before the World Health Organisation and friendly countries like India for succour.