Sri Lankan President fled the country amid economic crisis

Colombo, Sri Lanka: Don’t get sick or get into an accident: This is the advice doctors are giving patients in Sri Lanka as its health care system lacks medicines and other vital supplies due to the country’s economic crisis.
The South Asian island nation is short of money to pay for basic imports such as fuel and food, and medicine is running out. Such troubles threaten to undermine its enormous benefits to public health in recent decades.
Some doctors have taken to social media to donate supplies or try to get money to buy them. They are also urging Sri Lankans living abroad to help. So far there is no sign of an end to the crisis that has plunged the country into an economic and political recession.

Jesmy Fatima shows a prescription given by doctors to undergo pathology tests that were already delayed due to supply shortages in Colombo, Sri Lanka, June 3, 2022. (AP)

This means 15-year-old Hasini Vasna cannot get the medicine she needs to protect the transplanted kidney. Diagnosed with kidney disease as a child, she received a transplant nine months ago and needs to take an immune suppressant every day for the rest of her life to prevent her body from rejecting the organ.
Hasini’s family is relying on donors to help now that her hospital can no longer provide the tacrolimus tablets she had received for free until a few weeks ago. She takes eight and a half pills a day and only one drug costs more than $200 a month.
Hasini’s elder sister Ishara Thillini said, “We are being told (by the hospital) that they do not know when they will get this tablet again.”
The family sold their house and Hasini’s father got a job in the Middle East to pay for her treatment, but her income is barely enough.
Cancer hospitals are also struggling to maintain stock of essential medicines to ensure uninterrupted treatment.
“Don’t get sick, don’t get injured, don’t do anything that makes you go to hospital for unnecessary treatment,” said Sri Lanka Medical Association president Samath Dharmaratne.
“That’s how I can explain it; it’s a serious condition.”
Dr. Charles Nugawella, head of a kidney hospital in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, said his hospital is running thanks to the generosity of donors, but has only resorted to providing medicine to patients whose disease has reached that stage. where they require dialysis.
Nugawella worries that a lack of suture material could result in the hospital closing all but the most urgent surgery.

Mohamed Firoz, a kidney patient, wears his shirt to buy medicine on June 3, 2022 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (AP)

The Sri Lanka College of Oncologists gave the Ministry of Health a list of drugs that “is very important, that all hospitals should have at all times so that we can treat cancer without interruption,” Dr. Nadaraja Jayakumaran, who heads the college.
But the government is finding it difficult to provide them, he said.
And it’s not just medicine. Jayakumaran said patients undergoing chemotherapy are susceptible to infection and cannot eat normally, but there is not enough food in hospitals.
The situation threatens to bring about a health emergency at a time when the country is still recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.
Hospitals are short of medicines for rabies, epilepsy and sexually transmitted diseases. Laboratories do not have enough reagents to run a complete blood count test. Things like suture material, cotton socks for surgery, supplies for blood transfusions, even cotton and gauze are running low.
“If you are handling animals, be careful. If you are bitten and you need surgery and you get rabies, we do not have enough antiserum and rabies vaccines,” says Sri Lanka Medical Association Vice President Dr Surantha Perera said.

People wait to receive medicine at a government hospital for children in Colombo, Sri Lanka, June 6, 2022. (AP)

Perera said the association is trying to help patients through personal contacts and by soliciting donations from Sri Lankans living abroad.
Association president Dhamaratne said doctors may be forced to choose which patients to treat if the situation does not improve.
This is the reverse of decades of reforms, thanks to a universal health care system that has raised many health measures to the level of very wealthy countries.
Sri Lanka’s infant mortality rate, just under 7 per 1,000 live births, is not far from that of the US, with 5 per 1,000 live births, or Japan’s 1.6. It has a maternal mortality rate of about 30 per 100,000 which compares with most developing countries. The US rate is 19, while Japan’s is 5.
Life expectancy has increased from less than 72 years in 2000 to nearly 75 years by 2016.
The country has managed to eliminate malaria, polio, leprosy, the tropical parasitic disease filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis, and most other vaccine-preventable diseases.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has appealed for help, and the US, Japan, India and other countries have pledged money and other humanitarian aid. Wickremesinghe recently told lawmakers that aid from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and other agencies would ensure medical supplies by the end of next year.
But in hospital wards and operating rooms, the situation seems far less reassuring and it threatens to undermine public confidence in the health system, Dhamaratne said.
“Compared to COVID, the situation today as a health emergency is much worse,” he said.