An acute shortage of medicine in Sri Lanka resulting from the economic crisis will soon result in deaths, according to doctors, as hospitals are compelled to postpone life-saving surgeries for their patients due to a lack of drugs. Sri Lanka imports more than 80% of its medical supplies, but as the country’s foreign currency reserves deplete due to the crisis, key pharmaceuticals are disappearing from shelves, and the healthcare system is on the verge of collapsing.
Patients, their loved ones, and doctors at the 950-bed Apeksha cancer hospital on the outskirts of Colombo’s commercial centre feel more helpless in the face of shortages that are forcing the suspension of tests and the postponing of operations including essential surgery.
“It is very bad for cancer patients,” said Dr Roshan Amaratunga.
“Sometimes, in the morning we plan for some surgeries (but) we may not be able to do on that particular day … as (supplies) are not there.”
Several patients would face a virtual death sentence if the condition does not improve rapidly, he said.
COVID-19, which has battered the tourism-dependent economy, rising oil costs, populist tax cuts, and a restriction on the import of chemical fertilisers, which has ravaged agriculture, have all contributed to Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.
About 180 products, including injections for dialysis patients, medicine for transplant patients, and some cancer treatments, are running out, according to a government official working on medical supply procurement.
According to the official, Saman Rathnayake, supplies are being sent by India, Japan, and multilateral donors, although delivery could take up to four months.
Meanwhile, he noted, Sri Lanka has appealed to individual donors both at home and abroad for assistance.
Doctors believe they are more concerned than the patients or their families since they are aware of the situation’s gravity and potential ramifications.
Dr Vasan Ratnasingam, a spokesman for the Government Medical Officers’ Association, compared the repercussions for those waiting for treatment to the ubiquitous lines for petrol and cooking gas.
“If patients are in a queue for drugs, they will lose their lives,” said Ratnasingam.
Binuli Bimsara’s mother, who is four years old and is being treated for leukaemia, said she and her husband were afraid.
“Earlier, we had at least some hope because we had the medication but now we are living under tremendous fear,” the mother said.
“We are really helpless, our future is really dark when we hear about a shortage of medicines. We don’t have money to take our child abroad for treatment.”
Officials said Indian authorities supplied 25 tonnes of medical supplies and other relief on Sunday.
“At no time has India assisted any other country to this extent … This is something for which we are deeply grateful,” Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, G.L. Peiris, said at Colombo’s port as he stood by a vessel bringing in thousands of sacks of supplies.
“This is probably the most difficult period that Sri Lanka has had to face since independence.”
(Adapted from Reuters.com)