A boost for healthcare | Daily News

A boost for healthcare

Sri Lanka is one of the few developing countries with a completely free healthcare service for its citizens and even for foreigners who walk into any Government hospital. The Government spends billions of rupees on the health service every year, but more needs to be done to make it even better.

Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne on Sunday outlined a series of measures that will be taken soon in this regard. For a start, the Health Ministry expects to produce 80 percent of its drug requirements by the end of 2018, which will save US$ 400 million spent annually to import drugs for Government hospitals. This is in fact a long-delayed fulfillment of the plans by the visionary Dr. Senaka Bibile for local drug manufacture. Accordingly, the importation of all drugs which can be produced locally (around 1,000 drug varieties), will be stopped by end 2018. The prices of such pharmaceuticals will further come down as they are manufactured locally. Moreover, it will be a fillip for local drugs manufacturers who work in partnership with the State Pharmaceuticals Manufacturing Corporation.

This is another feather in the cap for the Minister, who fought hard to bring down the prices of many essential imported drugs and surgical items such as stents in the face of fierce resistance by multinational companies which sold these drugs at a huge mark-up. To cite just one example, there was one injection sold for Rs. 100,000 which is now available for just Rs. 19,759. One can only imagine the kind of profit these companies made by fleecing innocent patients.

The introduction of the free 1990 Ambulance Service in collaboration with the Indian Government was another revolutionary step. Although a politically motivated GMOA initially opposed this service, it has become a true life saver for residents of Western and Southern provinces where it is currently operational. It has so far saved the lives of 21 critically ill children, not to mention hundreds of adults. The service will be expanded island-wide next year.

However, there are certain critical instances where even an ambulance cannot go fast enough. Most countries have an Air Ambulance (Flying Doctor) service to serve such patients. The Sri Lanka Air Force engages in this task at the moment, but given its own operational requirements and other constraints it cannot offer a full-time Air Ambulance service. Now the Health Ministry plans to procure eight Airbus helicopters for this purpose with German assistance, in addition to 28 state-of-the-art emergency vehicles. This will be a revolution not only in Sri Lanka, but also in South Asia. However, upgrading hospitals is equally important. With this aim in mind the Government hopes to establish European standard hospitals in Hambantota, Panadura, Dambulla, Matale and Embilipitiya with German, Netherlands and French aid.

All this will come to naught if there is no proper database and record system for Government hospitals. Hence the Minister’s plan to digitize the country’s healthcare system via an E-Health policy. According to the E-Health policy, all citizens will be issued E-Health Cards which will record their health conditions so that any doctor can have a descriptive medical history of the patients.

The E-Health System will be introduced to 45 Hospitals in the next two years and expanded to 300 hospitals following the initial implementation. This will be complemented by new software introduced to track and manage medicine availability in main hospitals in the country. It is also important to record some health information in the new NIC and driving licences, so that paramedics and doctors can react quickly in the case of traffic accidents and also take steps towards presumptive organ donation.

Budget 2018 has already allocated funds for several additional medical faculties, which will help realise the goal of having two to three family physicians (General Practitioners) for every 5,000-10,000 families. This project is worth US$ 200 million which will be provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank. These family physicians should provide reports on all families they are responsible for, every six months.

Today, most people tend to rush to the nearest public or private medical centre for even minor ailments, but this will be a far better alternative as the GP will be their first point of contact. The GP will then be able to recommend any specialist consultation or treatment, which will save time and money for patients. The Government will also restart recruiting Public Health Medical Officers and Public Health Medical Nurses for village level healthcare monitoring activities.

All these steps will augment Sri Lanka’s enviable status in the world healthcare rankings. The WHO has recently praised the present Healthcare System in Sri Lanka as a role model to the entire world. It has also lauded the country’s tobacco control methods, which have ensured a 15 percent drop in cigarette consumption in just two years. In fact, health and education are the two pivotal elements that keep Sri Lanka ahead of the curve in South Asia. These new measures will no doubt boost this standing. 


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