One healing spark

Thursday, 17 October 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

One person, or in this case one hospital, can make a difference. The Ampara Base Hospital has clinched the National Quality Award, giving a shocking wakeup call to Lankan private and manufacturing sectors. It has also shown that with passion and dedication Sri Lanka’s sickened health sector can be turned around into a productive system that citizens can not only use, but be proud of. Those that are familiar with the Ampara hospital will know that this was not an overnight achievement. It came slow and hard with the hospital staff providing exceptional service year after year. Among its remarkable achievements was assisting the injured during the 2004 tsunami that claimed the lives of over 30,000 people. It has remained a cornerstone of the Ampara District, proving its capability time after time and it indeed fully deserves the honours that it has achieved. Visitors are routinely impressed by the organisation, structure and efficiency of the Ampara hospital that followed the 5S policy. It has humbly shown what can be achieved despite the challenges of corruption, politicisation and mismanagement that mar the rest of the public health sector. Stories of expired saline, essential drug shortages, breakdown of machines as well as doctor and nurse disputes, not to mention the unreliability of medication hit headlines several times a week in Sri Lanka. There has even been talk by none other than the Minister himself that a “mafia” controls the drug trade, making effective policing all but impossible. Moreover, there is little or no transparency or accountability in the selection or blacklisting process, with the public having to take whatever is dealt out to them. Without an effective, independent and accountable process in place, the dangers of substandard medical imports will never be adequately addressed. But no one seems to be interested in fast tracking this process. Pundits have lobbied for the Dr. Senaka Bibile drug policy that was recommended 40 years ago, but to no avail. To make matters worse, there are greater threats looming. As Sri Lanka becomes more prosperous, so too does the propensity for non-communicable diseases that already make up an estimated 85% of deaths. The World Bank points out demographic transition stems from a larger proportion of older people in a population as a result of increased longevity and reduced fertility that usually accompany economic growth. As a result, older populations often face different types of diseases that can be more chronic and expensive to cure. A South Asia regional study found that South Asians suffer their first heart attacks six years earlier than other groups worldwide. This burden of NCDs will rise in the future, in part, due to further ageing of the population with the doubling of the population over the age of 65 from 12.1% to 24.4% over the next 30 years. Clearly Sri Lanka’s limping health system is unprepared to deal with such challenges. Financial irresponsibility, mismanagement, corruption and that universal evil, politicisation, have crippled the system but this one hospital in Ampara has proved that there is hope if there is passion, dedication and leadership. Would that the rest of the public health officials find it too.