02/13/2023, 18.01
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Emergency surgeries prioritised as Sri Lanka faces shortages of medical drugs

by Arundathie Abeysinghe

In rural areas, health facilities have posted notices asking patients to bring plasters, gauze, and bandages. The National Medicines Regulatory Authority has authorised the importation of non-essential drugs, as well as shampoo. In the meantime, the government has set up a committee to address the problem.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lanka is facing a serious shortage of medical drugs due to low foreign exchange reserves that prevent imports; out of 300 basic medicines, about 160 are no longer available.

Several health experts report that the Health Ministry advised hospitals to prioritise emergency cases and urgent surgeries and delay others, minimising routine operations to preserve supplies.

Across the country, especially in the capital, drug shortages are getting worse day by day, while in rural areas, hospitals have posted notices asking patients to bring plasters, gauze and bandages.

A senior Health Ministry official, who asked that his name not be used, explained that "many hospitals may be closed down,” if the situation is not addressed immediately.

Several anaesthesiologists who spoke to AsiaNews confirmed the information. “About 60 medicines are expected to be imported shortly. But these stocks may be sufficient only for two to three months,” one of them said.

Last week, at a press briefing, the Sri Lankan Medical Association noted that while there was “a shortage of some essential drugs, there are no stocks at all of others” like “anaesthetics and pain management medicines.”

Making matters worse, “Both local and general anaesthetic agents are not available, limiting options for doctors who are faced with a dire situation”.

Whether “a patient in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), someone who has undergone surgery, a pregnant mother who has had a Caesarean section, a victim of an accident or a cardiovascular patient”, any “shortage or lack of medicines would impact them all.”

“Whether it is a rural hospital or the National Hospital of Sri Lanka (NHSL), a state or private hospital, the impact is all over the country,” said Dr Nishantha Samaranayaka, who served as a surgeon until December 2022. This “impacts all citizens and if we ignore it, there is a looming critical situation.”

For several analysts, on the short run, the “need is to import only essential medicines and halt all imports of non-essential medicines and manage the patients carefully, until the country comes out of this major economic crisis”.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan Medical Association welcomed the Health Ministry’s decision to set up a committee with representatives from professional medical colleges, the National Medicines Regulatory Authority, the Medical Supplies Division, and the State Pharmaceuticals Corporation, with the aim of finding solutions in a timely manner.

The committee is set to meet weekly and once a month with Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella.

“Sri Lanka faced a similar situation during the tsunami, in December 2004,” a senior medical consultant explained. At the time, “not only non-essential medicines, but also expired drugs had to be destroyed, at great cost”.

Unfortunately, the “NMRA has arbitrarily authorised the import of over 270 medicines without an assessment of quality, safety and efficacy”, this at a time when the country “is strapped for foreign exchange. Among these are also numerous non-essential medicines and a hair shampoo too.”

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