09/12/2022, 14.04
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Sri Lanka adopts emergency plans to cope with medical drug shortages

by Arundathie Abeysinghe

Some hospitals have stocks for only a few days. Imports have slowed due to the economic crisis and fuel shortages, affecting distribution to rural health facilities. The government will collect excess stocks and redistribute them as needed.


Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lankan health officials are struggling to come up with emergency plans to address a medical drug shortage due to the current economic crisis. Some hospitals have a few days' stocks of life-saving medicines.

The Health Ministry “has decided to implement a mechanism under which buffer stock medicines in primary health care units and divisional hospitals will be brought to a central unit and distributed, based on a need assessment,” a source told AsiaNews.

According to ministry officials, the current shortage "was caused by a disruption in supply chains and distribution networks,” including "delays in opening letters of credit" because of the foreign exchange crisis that has ravaged the country’s economy for months.

"The Health Ministry was unable to place orders for regular imports as it had done before the economic crisis," the source added.

In addition to the currency crisis, the lack of fuel has slowed down the distribution network, affecting mainly hospitals in rural areas.

“There is a serious shortage of medicine and equipment required for eye care and cancer patients, including antibiotic syrup for toddlers,” reports the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA).

Anaesthesia drugs needed for surgery are also in short supply, forcing doctors to postpone surgeries. Last week, the GMOA met with President Ranil Wickremasinghe to seek his opinion on the crisis.

According to the GMOA’s assessment, five stakeholders manage and distribute medicines and health equipment in the country: the Health Ministry, the Division for Medical Supplies and the Online Hospital System, the State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) which handles the importation of drugs, the State Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Corporation (SPMC), and the National Regulatory Agency for Medicines (NMRA).

For the GMOA, there is a “lack of coordination among these stakeholders”; as a result, problems and delays occur in the purchase of drugs.

“We have presented our proposals regarding this issue,” said a medical officer. “We urge the government to conduct an audit and maintain an online system for drug use. If there is a mechanism to check how many drugs are distributed in the country and how many stocks there are, we could address this issue."

In Kandy, Balangoda and Badulla, hospitals have not yet experienced a drug shortage, so the government asked them to return any excess stock.

“We have sufficient buffer stock to last three months. We are returning most of the excess medicines, especially antibiotics and paracetamol, while keeping a stock sufficient to meet our needs for one month,” hospital sources told AsiaNews.

In the case of the Puttalam-Marawila Divisional Hospital however, the facility returned some excess inventory to the central unit even though it was experiencing a shortage of oral antibiotics for paediatric patients.

Doctors at Colombo National Hospital have begun to limit the use of acetaminophen and surgical materials such as gloves, gowns, masks, syringes, and gauze.

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