A dire situation | Daily News

A dire situation

While Health authorities are focused on the rapid spread of COVID-19 and dengue, it appears that little attention is being paid to the chronic shortage of medicines and essential drugs in rural hospitals which has now assumed crisis proportions. It seems only the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) that keeps continuing to highlight the drug shortage and the plight of the patients, particularly in hospitals in the outstations and is holding regular news conferences to nudge the authorities on the need for finding remedies to overcome the crisis. As the GMOA doctors keep saying food can always be shared between the haves and the have nots and people will not always go hungry. As GMOA Secretary Dr. Haritha Aluthge says if one could not afford to buy dhal one can easily switch to a cheaper food item. But this is not the case with drugs and medicines. One has even the choice to skip one meal for the day, but drugs and medicines cannot be reduced in intake and the full dosage prescribed by the doctors has to be taken if one were to stay intact.

The other day television showed the plight of a Government hospital in Anuradhapura where patients were asked to buy their drug requirements from outside due to their unavailability in the hospital including life saving drugs. In a pathetic sight a poor distraught father was shown sobbing inconsolably as the drug prescribed by the hospital for his ailing daughter was to cost Rs. 95,000 which he could not even dream of raising. How the daughter is going to survive no one can tell. The hospital had run out of stocks and pleas for replenishment had been to no avail. Meanwhile, doctors at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital have appealed to the public to meet the medicinal requirements of children with long standing ailments adding that any break in the treatment cycle could prove fatal. This sums up the situation. Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella had apparently grasped the gravity of the position and said the drugs and medicinal requirements of all Government Hospitals will be met shortly.

The problem is, it is not just the Government hospitals, even most of the private hospitals are running short of drugs and medicines, and, what is more, test kits and other vital medical equipment. No Rapid Antigent Tests too are being carried out any longer and there could be carriers of the COVID-19 among the public several fold than what is officially reported. All Government Hospitals meanwhile have suspended non-urgent surgeries and are performing operations only on life threatening cases.

The prices of drugs and medicines are another cause for concern. Almost all drugs are beyond the reach of not only the poor but also the average income earners, the prices shooting up more than fivefold with most drugs unavailable in the pharmacies even at a price. The plight of the aged, the Senior Citizens, retirees who have no one to depend on could only be imagined. These souls need their regular intake of drugs and medicines to keep them alive and if the shortage in hospitals coupled with the high prices continue indefinitely we will soon see a situation where people start dying without medicines. As such the authorities need to act fast.

As already mentioned, one can ration or even go without food for a day or so and still survive but it is a different kettle of fish where medicine is concerned, especially in the case of the aged and those afflicted with non communicable diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure and respiratory problems. With COVID-19 and dengue back with a vengeance, the situation could only be dire. It’s time the health authorities went into emergency mode and devise measures to deal with the multiple health threats that threaten to plunge the country into a serious crisis. The health precautions that were evident during the initial outbreak of the pandemic are no longer evident. Public transport continues to ply in their own merry way with overcrowding the order of the day. We are also not in short supply of protests, agitations and other mass gatherings. Restrictions that were placed on weddings, funerals etc. have simply vanished and there were few face mask wearers at the recently held religious festivals.

Now that there is an acute shortage of drugs and medicines in the hospitals what the authorities should be doing is taking steps to prevent or minimize the spread of diseases as far as possible, so that this may at least ease the strain on the doctors and medical staff. True, this is not the long term answer for the current drug shortage in hospitals that has hampered the treatment of serious illnesses. This requires elaborate planning and foreign assistance in which the country has now almost reached the point of exhaustion. The Government should now pay equal attention that is directed towards the import of fuel and gas, to essential drugs and medicines too. We are certain that bodies such as the WHO and International Red Cross would more than chip in to address this grave humanitarian crisis. All Government hospitals should be adequately stocked, so that the medicines last for longer durations not leaving the public in want.

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