Expat docs’ duties and the public
No less unsettling than
the number of Sri Lankan medical doctors serving in foreign
climes, rather than being of service to their motherland in its
time of need, is the number of public health institutions which
have been shut down in recent times.
We have it on the authority of Health Minister Maithripala
Sirisena that this number currently stands at 45. For a country
which has been priding itself on its free health services to the
public, this figure is discomforting. The chief reason for the
closure of these institutions which play a pivotal role in
sustaining the people’s health is the dearth of doctors.
However, there are some 10,000 local doctors serving in the
West at present, while health institutions are thus consigned to
the Limbo of forgotten things and the people virtually left in
the lurch as regards an essential service.
Needless to say, a duty is cast on these Lankan medical
officers who are currently making their services available in
foreign countries, to pay heed to the Health Minister’s appeal
that they return to their motherland and serve their fellow
countrymen, since their medical education here was financed
entirely by the local tax payer. These expatriate doctors are
conscience-bound to respond positively to this appeal and it is
likely to be the wish of the majority of the local public that
this would be the case.
These issues are by no means new to the Lankan public. We in
the press have been tirelessly highlighting them over the past
few decades with the expectation that the consciences of
particularly our public sector medical officers would be
sufficiently stirred to enable them to be imbued with a sense of
social responsibility. Considering that the medical brain-drain
from Sri Lanka has been continuing, the inference is inescapable
that the consciences of some of our medical doctors are sealed
steadfastly against moral pressure.
There may be valid reasons for this continuing brain-drain
but the collective good of the country cannot be bartered away
for some feverishly sought greenbacks and painstakingly earned
perks that may not, in the final analysis, prove very fulfilling
on account of the prohibitively high costs incurred in achieving
the dream of material fulfillment in competition-ridden foreign
climes. However, it is also no secret that very many Lankan
doctors who end up practising and earning in foreign lands get
an opportunity to do so on account of availing of scholarships
and related facilities which come their way as a result of state
mediation and sponsorship.
So, thanks to the Lankan welfare state these doctors get an
opportunity to engage in comparatively lucrative employment
abroad but at an unbearable cost to Sri Lanka. The string of
provincial medical institutions that are facing closure for want
of qualified medical personnel is the glaring proof of this.
Need we tell our less conscientious medical personnel that it is
the ordinary people who are compelled to suffer on account of
their lack of moral concern?
Our medical personnel currently serving in foreign lands for
mainly the pecuniary benefits it brings them should take into
consideration that the terror menace is no more in this country.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa too has time and again called on all
sections of the Sri Lankan expatriate community to help in the
historic task of rejuvenating Sri Lanka.
If terror has been among the leading causes for the medical
brain drain, that factor has now been eliminated and the medical
personnel concerned are duty-bound to return to Sri Lanka and
give of their best in the monumental enterprise of rebuilding
Sri Lanka. This duty is inescapable and it is hoped that this
call of duty would be heeded.
Since the moral argument does not seem to be carrying any
weight with some of our medical personnel, the state should
consider other measures, perhaps even those of a legal nature,
to make it incumbent on state medical personnel to return what
is due from them to the public of this country.
Perhaps, the conditions attached to obtaining scholarships
should be made more stringent. More fool-proof bonds need to be
drawn-up between the state and the doctors concerned and the
costs of violating them by the relevant personnel rendered more
and more prohibitive. The bottom line should be that the costs
of violating agreements with the state should hugely outweigh
any benefits of working unconscionably abroad.