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Health and crookery

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Wednesday 5th July, 2023

The age-old saying, “Health is wealth”, has apparently taken on a whole new meaning in Sri Lanka, where the health sector has become a Golconda of sorts for some corrupt politicians, their bureaucratic lackeys, and the greedy private hospital mudalalis, who thrive on other people’s misery. These characters sans any sympathy for fellow human beings have come under fire once again for making the most of the health needs of the public to amass colossal amounts of wealth. In carrying out their sordid operations, they are guided by Rafferty’s rules, or no rules at all. The prevailing culture of impunity has stood them in good stead.

Public sector health professionals have been vehemently protesting, for the past several weeks, against the procurement by the Health Ministry of substandard drugs, which have already snuffed out several lives and caused blindness in some people. In fact, they have exposed numerous health sector rackets and even named names, but the culprits always have the last laugh.

President of the Government Medical Officers’ Forum Dr. Rukshan Bellana has asked Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella to resign if the latter cannot eliminate corruption in the Health Ministry. His call has resonated with the public. Speaking to the media, he has flayed Minister Rambukwella for the existing drug shortages in the state sector and shielding corrupt Health Ministry officials in the pay of drug companies. Other trade union leaders representing doctors, nurses and the members of the professions supplementary to medicine have also exposed numerous corrupt deals in the health sector, all these years, but to no avail.

Anyone can go on talking about crooked deals in the state health institutions until he or she is blue in the face, but the crooks who profit from such questionable transactions will never be brought to justice. Such is the power of crooks. Not for nothing is it alleged that the Health Ministry is geared to look after the interests of the corrupt. It has been a den of thieves for the past several decades, and its corruption costs the country dear.

Dr. Bellana has said public funds must not be used to compensate the victims affected by substandard drugs, etc., and the errant companies concerned must be made to pay compensation. One cannot but agree with him. Those who ordered the drugs of questionable quality must also be severely dealt with.

Ravi Kumudesh of the Academy of Health Professionals is one of the trade unionists who have demanded to know how on earth Health Minister Rambukwella had been unaware of the unavailability of vital drugs in the state-run hospitals until it was too late. Rambukwella has admitted that 190 out of 800 medicinal drugs used in Sri Lanka are not available. Is it that nobody brought the issue of drug shortages to his notice or he was aware of it but did not care to do anything?

Drug shortages in the state sector are a blessing to private pharmacies, which make a killing at the expense of the poor; they also warrant emergency purchases much to the glee of the corrupt engaged in the procurement of medicinal drugs, etc. True, the current forex crisis has contributed to drug shortages, but allegations abound that they are also artificially created from time to time so that politicians and bureaucrats can bypass the standard procurement procedures and import drugs from companies of their choice and line their pockets. Most of the drugs so imported are found to be substandard and harmful, but nobody is called to account for this sorry state of affairs.

If the Health Ministry, which has become Sri Lanka’s Augean stables, could be cleansed and crooks therein made to pay for their corrupt deals, the country would be able to save a great deal of funds and boost the state revenue significantly.

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