Health crisis looms as Sri Lanka medicines run out

Health crisis looms as Sri Lanka medicines run out


Published: 21:42 22 April 2022  



Sri Lanka has run out of dollars to procure vital imports of food and fuel, triggering weeks of demonstrations demanding the government step down. However, it is in the health sector that the consequences of the crisis are most visceral.

Ghany, 63, was trying to secure supplies of pertuzumab, the monoclonal antibody used to treat breast cancer.

“This is the first time during her cancer treatment that I have not been able to find her medicine,” he said, breaking down.

His 55-year-old wife was “very sick”, he told AFP. “What do I do? I am helpless. But I will do whatever I can to save her.”

Sri Lanka used to import around 85 percent of its pharmaceuticals but is suffering its worst economic crisis since 1948.

Multiple health workers told AFP that hospitals and chemist stores across the country were running out of essential medicines. 

Viraj Jayasinghe, a consultant pediatrician at Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children, a state facility in Colombo, said his department normally maintains as much as six months worth of stocks.

“Right now, we are really in short supply,” he told AFP. ‘And we are worried about patient safety in the future.”

He is among hundreds of doctors and health workers who have joined protests 
demanding urgent deliveries of drugs and medical equipment, including endotracheal tubes to help babies breathe.

Public appeals for help have brought in donations from individuals and organizations, but the Sri Lankan medical fraternity says it is not enough. 

Jayasinghe said single-patient nebulizer kits were being washed and reused in his department instead of being discarded as normal, raising the possibility of disease transmission, particularly given the coronavirus pandemic.

“That’s sad, but that’s the reality,” he added.

“The last thing that I would want is for a child to die in my arms because I don’t have any drugs to treat.” – AFP