Medicine shortage leading to death sentence for some in Sri Lanka

A scarcity of medicine in Sri Lanka caused by an economic crisis will soon result in deaths, according to physicians, as hospitals are compelled to postpone life-saving surgeries for their patients due to a lack of pharmaceuticals.

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 vanishing from shelves, and the healthcare system is on the verge of collapsing.

Patients, their loved ones, and physicians at the 950-bed Apeksha cancer hospital on the outskirts of Colombo’s commercial center feel more powerless in the face of shortages that are forcing the suspension of testing and the postponing of operations including essential surgery.

“It is really harmful to cancer patients,” Dr. Roshan Amaratunga warned.

“Sometimes, we arrange for procedures in the morning, but we may not be able to conduct them that day… because (materials) are not available.”

Several patients would face a virtual death sentence if the condition does not improve rapidly, he added.

COVID-19, which has battered the tourism-dependent economy, increasing 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, medication 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 might 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 seriousness and its ramifications.

Dr Vasan Ratnasingam, a representative for the Government Medical Officers’ Association, compared the repercussions for those waiting for treatment to the omnipresent lines for petrol and cooking gas.

“If people have to wait in line for medications, they would die,” Ratnasingam warned.

Binuli Bimsara’s mother, who is four years old and is being treated for leukemia, said she and her husband were afraid.

“We had some hope before since we had the medicine, but now we are living in terror,” the mother explained.

“When we learn of a drug scarcity, we feel helpless and our future seems bleak. We do not have the financial means to send our child abroad for treatment.”

Officials claimed Indian authorities supplied 25 tonnes of medical supplies and other relief on Sunday.

Sri Lanka‘s foreign minister, G.L. Peiris, stated at Colombo’s port as he stood by a vessel carrying in hundreds of bags of supplies, “At never time has India aided any other country to this level… This is something for which we are sincerely thankful.”

“This is, without a doubt, Sri Lanka’s most challenging era since independence.”

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