State health sector needs immediate attention

Saturday, 27 May 2023 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The State health sector is one of the worst impacted by the economic woes the country has been facing for over a year now. Medicine shortages, delay in operations due to shortages of essential drugs, lack of basic equipment, etc. are among the problems the sector is facing with little sign of improvement.

According to the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) there is a shortage of over 120 drugs which includes painkillers, drugs for diabetic, cancer and heart patients in State-funded hospitals. As a result, patients who visit Government hospitals are given a prescription to buy medicine from private pharmacies which are available at exorbitant prices but not within the reach of the majority of people.

The shortages in the State health sector have not impacted private pharmacies. The All-Island Private Pharmacy Owners Association and the Pharmaceutical Society of Sri Lanka say they have adequate stocks at present, but it all comes at a price.

There are millions of Sri Lankans who depend on medicines issued by Government hospitals as well as for healthcare as they are unable to afford medicine from a private pharmacy nor hospitalisation at a private facility. The non-availability of free medicine is making many skip the necessary treatment till they are available once again at Government hospitals, thus putting their lives at risk.

The country’s free healthcare system, once held up as a model for many countries in Asia, is seeing its worst downturn. Health indicators which Sri Lanka once boasted to the rest of the world as among the best are now increasingly faltering, to the dismay of many.

The Parliamentary Committee on Ways and Means chaired by MP Patali Champika Ranawaka this week disclosed that more than 3.7 million applications were received from those seeking benefits from the Government social security schemes. While the World Bank has said that 30% of the recipients of the Samurdhi allowance are not eligible for it and there needs to be a better system of scrutinising applicants, there are still millions who need Government assistance to get by. For them a meal on the table is the priority while medical needs, unless it’s given free of charge, will not be a priority.

This is why the Health Ministry must do more to put back Government hospitals to where they were before the dismal economic policies of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pushed it to the brink. The sector is riddled with allegations of bribery and corruption, some so serious that the Supreme Court has had to intervene in some cases to put a stop to irregular procurement of medicines.

Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella has had serious allegations made against him for his interference in the procurement process and though he has denied the allegations, there are many unanswered questions which have added to the lack of public faith in the Government ability to deal seriously with the problems facing the Government health services.

The health and education sectors are the most vital for any country and the Government must provide adequate funds so that they can function smoothly. Over the years, these very sectors have been largely neglected with inadequate funds allocated in the budget to ensure that they function effectively and efficiently. As the country slowly moves towards better economic times, the Government must ensure that the shortcomings in the State-funded health and education systems are addressed as promptly as possible.