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Shortages are leaving Sri Lanka’s bankrupt hospitals empty

#Shortages #leaving #Sri #Lankas #bankrupt #hospitals #empty

Entire wards at Sri Lanka’s largest hospital are dark and nearly empty, the few remaining patients remain untreated and still in pain, and doctors are prevented from even showing up for their shifts.

An unprecedented economic crisis has dealt a severe blow to a free and universal healthcare system that was the envy of the country’s South Asian neighbors just months earlier.

Suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure that inflamed her joints, Theresa Mary traveled to the capital, Colombo, for treatment at Sri Lanka’s National Hospital.

Unable to find a lift for the final leg of her journey, she had to walk the last five kilometers.

She was discharged four days later and was still having trouble standing because the pharmacy had run out of subsidized painkillers.

“Doctors have asked me to buy medicine from a private pharmacy, but I have no money,” Mary, 70, told AFP.

“My knees are still swollen. I have no home in Colombo. I don’t know how long I have to walk.”

The National Hospital normally cares for people across the island nation who need specialized treatment, but it’s now staffed fewer and many of its 3,400 beds lie idle.

Stocks of surgical equipment and life-saving medicines are nearly depleted, while the chronic fuel shortage means that both patients and doctors are unable to travel for treatment.

“Patients scheduled for surgery don’t come in,” said Dr. Vasan Ratnasingham, a member of a state doctors’ association, told AFP.

“Some medical workers are working double shifts because others are unable to show up for duty. They have cars but no gas.”

Sri Lanka imports 85 percent of its medicines and medical devices, as well as raw materials to manufacture the remaining part of its needs.

But the country is now bankrupt and a lack of foreign exchange has meant it can’t get enough gas to keep the economy running – and not enough medicine to treat its sick.

“Normal painkillers, antibiotics and pediatric medicines are extremely scarce. Other drugs have become up to four times more expensive in the last three months,” pharmacy owner K. Mathiyalagan told AFP.

Mathiyalagan said his colleagues had to turn down three out of 10 prescriptions because they didn’t have the funds to fill them.

“Many basic drugs are completely out of stock,” he added. “Doctors prescribe without knowing what’s available in pharmacies.”

– ‘Brink of Collapse’ –

Health Ministry officials declined to give details of the current state of Sri Lanka’s public health system, on which 90 percent of the population depends.

But doctors working at state hospitals say they have been forced to limit routine surgeries to prioritize life-threatening emergencies and use less effective substitute drugs.

“Sri Lanka’s once strong health system is now in jeopardy,” UN coordinator Hanaa Singer-Hamdy said in a statement. “The weakest are hit the hardest.”

The World Bank recently diverted development funds to help Sri Lanka pay for much-needed medicines, including rabies vaccines.

India, Bangladesh, Japan and other countries have helped with donations to the health sector, while expatriate Sri Lankans have helped by sending medicines and medical equipment home.

But incoming President Ranil Wickremesinghe has warned that the country’s economic crisis is likely to last until late next year, and Sri Lanka is staring at the prospect of an even worse public health crisis.

Hyperinflation has driven food prices so high that many households are struggling to feed themselves.

According to the World Food Program, nearly five million people — 22 percent of the population — are in need of food assistance, with more than five in six families either skipping meals, eating less, or buying lower-quality food.

If the crisis drags on, “more infants will die and malnutrition will be widespread in Sri Lanka,” said Dr. Medical Officers’ Association’s Vasan told AFP.

“It will bring our healthcare system to the brink of collapse.”

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#Shortages #leaving #Sri #Lankas #bankrupt #hospitals #empty

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