A welcome move | Daily News

A welcome move

The move by Health Minister Dr. Keheliya Rambukwella to bring down the prices of medicinal drugs will be welcomed by those heavily dependent on drugs for their survival. It is a fact that today those with various ailments are hit on two fronts - the shortage of vital drugs and their prohibitive prices. For most, it is one huge battle for survival. Television recently showed a poor patient turned away without drugs at a State hospital in a rural area throwing up his arms coming out of a private pharmacy after being told of the price.

The Minister, according to media reports, had instructed his officials to take steps to reduce the prices of drugs by about 15 percent taking into consideration the dollar depreciation, which means drug prices will come down by between Rs. 190 to Rs.370. While the reduction is not all that drastic, this would be some consolation to those dependent on drugs for various ailments.

The prices of pharmaceuticals have shot to the stratosphere forcing many to go slow on their regulated dosage in order to prolong as much as possible their next visit to the pharmacy. This will result in other complications and even possible death. No doubt, the reduction in the prices of drugs to whatever level will be like a God-send to pensioners and senior citizens who have to exhaust their retirement benefits for their drugs alone.

The way things are, most spend a good portion of their monthly salaries on their medications leaving a little else for other basic requirements. With job losses due to the pandemic and the economic slump, one can only imagine the plight of those without an income.

In fact, special arrangements should be made for the poor and senior citizens to obtain their drugs at designated centres such as Osu Salas at subsidized rates. This should be part and parcel of the poor relief programme (Aswesuma) now being launched to provide financial resources to the most vulnerable segments.

The Health Ministry should also ensure that pharmacies issue drugs at the new prices following their reduction because the prices of goods that go up never come down in this country. A special body should be appointed to monitor this. There is no purpose in the prices being reduced if the public are not benefited.

Drug prices are so high that those afflicted with diseases, among the poor, such as diabetes, high blood pressure etc. are going without their medication, risking their lives in the process. Hence, some mechanism should be devised to bring drug prices down to affordable levels for the average income earner. The plight of the poor and the have-nots in this regard is too frightening to comprehend. Worse, the cause of death in the case of those dying without medication does not mention this fact. Hence, those entrusted with the responsibility for providing drugs at affordable prices save their skins by default. The Health Ministry should take serious note of this aspect and make all prescription drugs affordable to the poorer segments.

This brings one to the topic of the country’s health service. Today, Government hospitals are without vital drugs and patients invariably have to obtain their drugs from private pharmacies which charge the sky and the moon. The Minister must take steps to persuade these pharmacies to slash their prices on drugs to reasonable levels. It is a fact that pharmacies made massive profits during the pandemic days judging by the long queues in front of these outlets and also the highly lucrative home delivery services. It is only fair for these pharmacies in their turn to help out by being a little generous now.

Meanwhile, the high cost of drugs is only one aspect affecting the health sector. The acute shortage of medicines and medical equipment in State Hospitals is also serious. Today, some Government hospitals in rural areas and the provinces are reportedly not performing surgeries due to lack of surgical equipment and even anesthetic drugs while others are without even the basic clinical material such as lint and gauze, according to a Government doctor who spoke on TV.

The large-scale flight of doctors and medical professionals especially specialists too is hampering the operation of rural hospitals. The Health Ministry should focus its attention on this aspect as well and remedial action taken before things take a turn for the worse. According to the GMOA today there is a shortage of 4,000 doctors in Government hospitals and what is more, those who have gone abroad for specialized training at State cost have failed to return. Steps should be taken to produce more doctors and also action taken against those failing to return to the country on completion of their foreign scholarships.

Measures should be taken to penalize those who fail to return such as by seizing their assets and impounding bank accounts. President Ranil Wickremesinghe has already announced steps to increase the annual intake to medical colleges from 1,500 to 4,000. Such measures are needed if we are to arrest the alarming trend of the flight of medical professionals.

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