The crippling effect of the shortage of medicine and medical equipment that the country has faced, as a direct result of the economic crisis, is having a severe adverse effect on patients while raising concerns amongst medical professionals of its telling impact if it is not addressed and solved promptly.
In June 2022, this newspaper carried a story in which Minister of Health, Keheliya Rambukwella, assured the country would not face a shortage of medicines and medical equipment by August 2022, making it appear as a silver lining in a dark cloud.
While observing that the State health service would not be faced with the lamentable situation of not having the foreign exchange necessary to import drugs by then, he said no one would be able to say there was a drug shortage in the country, at least till mid 2023, after August.
The question as to whether such assurance was a mere attempt to silence distressed patients for a short period persists in consideration of a story published in this newspaper yesterday titled ‘cancer recovery rate drops to 10 per cent’. According to the story, the reason behind such drop is the lack of radiotherapy for cancer patients as stated by Professor Krishantha Abeysena, Executive Committee Member of the Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB).
He said, for some cancer patients, radiotherapy was the only treatment for their recovery and due to the lack of equipment, most patients were on the waiting list for over three months. Abeysena has also pointed out that although the rate of recovery of these patients in foreign countries was 45 per cent, in Sri Lanka it is a mere 10 per cent.
He said, the shortage is not only in ‘Apeksha Hospital’ but also in other Districts as well. “If radiotherapy is not available, other drugs could be used as an alternative. However, these drugs are expensive. Even with the use of these expensive drugs, it has not been found whether the results were as effective as radiotherapy treatment. Some cancer patients have to be treated continuously for a year or more. The shortage of medicines and equipment is very serious,” he added.
During the onset of the shortage of medicine and equipment required for treatments, routine surgeries had to be temporarily suspended while the then Health Minister admitted that there would be a shortage of certain medicinal drugs in the next quarter, owing to the delay in opening Letters of Credit (LCs). He said there is a shortage of one out of the 14 life-saving drugs, 37 out of 646 essential drugs and 48 out of non-essential drugs at the moment.
The Health Ministry however, also made a U-turn and said there was no shortage of medicines and surgical equipment, creating confusion among the Sri Lankans overseas who were ready to donate medical equipment and medicinal drugs.
However, amidst this debacle, patients continued to be heavily inconvenienced and to add to the mess, the Health Ministry earlier this month said they are unable to give the specific number of drugs that are in short supply at the moment.
Deputy Director General Medical Supplies Division (DDG MSD), Dr. D.R.K. Herath said at the moment, they are unable to give an update of the exact number of drug and medicinal supplies that are in short supply, but daily monitoring that is done due to the prevailing country situation shows a shortage in a number of essential drugs.
Are we really moving forward and overcoming the economic crisis the country has faced if we have no proper mechanisms in place to ensure the safety of cancer patients and other patients with life threatening sicknesses?
Further, if the Ministry of Health, who is vested with the responsibility on updating the public on the current situation of the shortage of medicine and medical and surgical equipment is unsure of their facts, whom should the public turn to for reliable information?.