Health Ministry In an Utter Mess
By Faadhila Thassim
There is a dearth of health specialists in the country, President of the Government Medical Officers’ Forum (GMOF), Dr. Rukshan Bellana opined while expressing his disappointment over the local drug manufacturing failure.
Dr. Bellana in an interview with Ceylon Today further slammed the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) for having deviated from the basic objective of a trade union.
Excerpts of the interview:
What is the role of the GMOF in addressing the shortcomings in the health sector?
A: GMOF is one of the most popular and fast-growing medical trade unions in the country gaining popularity not only among the doctors but also among the public.
One of our basic principles is that we don’t want to see doctors engage in strikes, we enroll only doctors that are willing to say no to strikes as we only want to see powerful personalities running the trade union without a personal agenda which would pave way for a win-win situation for the doctors.
We are not rivals of the GMOA but we are competing with them in order to achieve welfare and professional goals of the medical professionals in Sri Lanka.
Venerable Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera is the unofficial leader of the GMOF and he goes as the patron of the GMOF and has given the freedom to the Executive Committee to take our own stand in regard to issues in the health sector. He is a trade union leader in the health sector since 1966 and thereby nobody can be a leader in the health sector other than him.
Has the GMOA which is an age-old Union managed to gain consistent recognition?
A: The GMOA is a hijacked organisation at the moment and they are deviated from the basic objective of a trade union and we are therefore compelled to criticise them.
GMOA had a golden era before 2000. The doctors in the service as well the citizens remember such era and the due respect is given for that past. It is a 95 year old organisation and 80 years of a golden era but the people and the Government are unaware that for the past 15 years, it has become an obsolete organisation.
Out of the 23,000 doctors, only around 500 are actively participating and they are keeping the others by force at ransom thanks to the Government support.
We too would like to see the GMOA do well because that would eventually help the doctors but without a competitive setup, we don’t see any good for the doctors happening through the GMOA.
A union that attempts to seek the attention of politicians and one that asks for personal help will never be able to win demands for doctors and that is what has happened to the GMOA.
Therefore, we are trying our best to replace them but the biggest obstacle in doing so is the Government itself, as the Government gave them a good hearing and support and they have managed to create an impression that the President is in support of them.
Therefore, doctors in fear of repercussions did not want to leave the GMOA and join us for the past two years but nevertheless we are getting a few memberships but ‘chicken-hearted’ doctors are still in persistent fear because of the harassment they might be subject to due to the impression that the Government has given that they are with the GMOA.
We need to break the shackles here but unfortunately, it has been so far a struggle. The Government is totally misdirected with the presence of the GMOA in the main decision making mechanisms.
The control of COVID-19 could have been much better if not for the GMOA involvement. They should be removed from the Presidential Task Force so that independent, right thinking professionals can express their views.
GMOA has no medical experts in their teams. They have ordinary medical officers holding main positions but top ranks of the Government are under the impression that they are the experts.
They have ignored the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA), Association of Medical Specialists and other professional colleges. They don’t even know the difference between the GMOF and such professional colleges.
The maximum participation when observing the last five minutes of the AGM of the GMOA is only 208 doctors while the GMOF can easily gather over 500 doctors at a given time, but we are not for going behind politicians and attention seekers.
We are also trying to grow not by force but through voluntary understanding of the difference between the two competing organisations.
What in your opinion are the main shortcomings in the health industry?
A: Doctors are harassed through the annual transfers; compulsory transfers are illegal but it happens. Some of the Officials of the Ministry of Health act as puppets and fear if they resist GMOA, they might be in the blacklisted category of the Government.
Those high ranking officials who were thrown out of the Ministry of Health such as Dr. Anil Jayasinghe, Dr. Amal Harsha De Silva,
Dr. Jayaruwan Bandara, Dr. Praba Palihawadana, Dr. Sudath Samaraweera were such victims in the recent past.
Tales are carried to the top of the hierarchy, with false information, by the GMOA and hence the remaining officers are living in a fear psychosis and duties are only carried out on the demand of the GMOA.
We as the GMOF do not like to interfere with the decision-making processes other than to create a win-win situation for doctors. In the process; one of our other principles is to corporate with the Health Minister who is in charge of the subject matter whatever the Government.
We had a healthy relationship with almost every Health Minister of the country, even in the past when we were not registered as an organisation.
Other than the GMOA, all the other trade unions had to agitate continuously to change the situation.
For the past two years, the Government has messed up the entire health services sector by giving the GMOA priority in decision making and based on that feedback removing some of the best administrators in the country who could have done much better if they were given a free hand.
The appointment of the Military Health Secretary has not brought any successful results other than maintaining a low profile. However, we see a strong leadership with the incumbent Minister of Health Keheliya Rambukwella who might face attacks from the mafia organisation because so far he has showed a straightforwardness in administration.
What are the main issues in the pharmaceutical industry?
A: State Pharmaceuticals Manufacturing Corporation (SPMC) and the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) are highly inefficient and corrupt organisations. The country is losing lots of business opportunities as these organisations can create employment opportunities within the country but the pharmaceuticals industry is slowly shrinking and shutting down its operations in Sri Lanka as a result of the huge losses they make due to corruption and inefficiencies in these organisations.
Drug manufacturing in Sri Lanka is another failure and is only done to fool the public by using the term local manufacturer. Through local manufacturing, unless we create an export opportunity, we have no future. We manufacture within the country by brining raw materials at a high price and importing the technology from foreign countries together with technical expertise.
Therefore, the price of the locally-manufactured product is much higher than that of the imported products. Apart from such price, the commissions and the corruption related to the industry makes the price of the product much higher anyway. It is a useless venture but the Chairmen of these establishments want the Government to believe they can save money for the country hence fooling the public health sector.
We have a dearth of health specialists in the country and therefore there is a need to increase the number of specialists. We do not believe in duty concessions but we believe that doctors should be given a vehicle by the Government on par with the parallel officers in the Government receiving it.
The intern and post-intern appointments are delayed because of one single trade union and not because of the inefficiency of the Director General of Health Services or his subordinates. The Health Ministry is in an utter mess and if the Government is willing to corporate with us, we know how to put it right.