Due to the economic crisis in Sri Lanka, drug shortages could soon lead to death, doctors say, as hospitals are forced to suspend life-saving procedures for their patients because they do not have the medicines they need.
Sri Lanka imports more than 80 per cent of its medical supplies but the crisis is depleting its foreign exchange reserves, essential medicines are disappearing from shelves and the healthcare system is on the verge of collapse.
At the 950-bed Apexa Cancer Hospital on the outskirts of the commercial capital Colombo, patients, their loved ones and doctors are feeling increasingly helpless in the face of the crisis that is forcing them to postpone tests and procedures including complex surgeries.
“It’s very bad for cancer patients,” said Dr. Roshan Amratunga. “Sometimes, in the morning we plan some surgery (but) we may not be able to do it on that particular day … since (the supply) is not there.”
He said if the situation does not improve quickly, several patients will face virtual executions.
Sri Lanka has been embroiled in its most devastating economic crisis since independence in 1948, with the Covid-19 hurting its tourism-dependent economy, the rise in oil prices, the reduction of populist taxes and a ban on the import of chemical fertilizers, which have devastated agriculture.
About 180 items, including injections for dialysis patients, medicines for transplanted patients and some cancer drugs, were sold out, said a government official working for medical supplies.
The official, Saman Rathnayek, told Reuters that India, Japan and multilateral donors were helping to deliver supplies, but that the items could take up to four months to arrive.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka has called for the help of private donors at home and abroad, he said.
Physicians say they are more concerned than patients or their relatives because they are aware of the gravity and consequences of the situation.
Referring to the ubiquitous queue for petrol and cooking gas, Dr Bhasan Ratnasingham, a spokesman for the Government Medical Officers Association, said the consequences for those waiting for treatment were even more dire.
“Patients will lose their lives if they stand in line for medicine,” said Ratnasinham.
The mother of four-year-old Binuli Bimsara, who is being treated for leukemia, said she and her husband were terrified.
“Before, we had at least some hope because we had drugs, but now we are living in fear,” said the mother.
“We are really helpless, our future is really dark when we hear about the shortage of medicines. We don’t have the money to take our child abroad for treatment.”
Indian authorities delivered 25 tonnes of medical aid on Sunday, along with other aid, officials said.
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister GL Peiris said standing next to a ship carrying thousands of sacks at the port of Colombo, “India has never provided such assistance to any other country … It is something we are deeply grateful for.” Supply
“Sri Lanka has probably faced some of the most difficult times since independence.”
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)