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Dr. Aluthge

… asks Minister to show sincerity by sacking culprits

By Rathindra Kuruwita

One of the main reasons for the sorry state of affairs in the health sector is corruption and the Health Minister must show his sincerity by sacking senior officials who are facing serious allegations, Dr. Haritha Aluthge, Secretary of the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA), told The Island.

Dr. Aluthge added that health officials had ignored the repeated warnings of professional organisations, and there were allegations that they subjugated the interests of the public to personal gain.

“When a drug is found to have serious side-effects, the Health Ministry suspends its use. Health sector professionals are struggling to cope with drug and staff shortages and fears over the quality of drugs. I think members of the general public must come forth and pressure officials to address these serious issues,” he said.

About a year ago, the health sector revealed that 120 types of drugs were out of stock. Dr. Aluthge said. This week, the Health Minister himself admitted that 190 drugs are in short supply.

“The Health Ministry also employs many officials accused of serious corruption. Allegations against the National Medicines Regulatory Authority are serious. The Minister must show his good intentions by sacking those who face serious charges. If not, the public trust in the healthcare system will collapse,” he said.

Chairman of the Government Radiological Technologists Association (GRTA) Chanaka Dharmawickrama said linear accelerator, a machine that aims radiation at cancer cells with pinpoint accuracy, sparing nearby healthy tissue, was the most advanced technology the cancer hospital had and the machine that was used to treat children was out of order.

“We have five such machines at Apeksha Hospital. One has broken down, and this is the machine we use to treat children. We used to treat 10-15 children daily using this machine. Now, we cannot treat anyone.”

Using a linear accelerator in the private sector would cost anything between 500,000 to 1,500,000 rupees, depending on the type of cancer and complications, he said.

“There is also a problem with the PET scan. We need a chemical to use in FDG PET scans that help radiologists distinguish between healthy tissue and diseased tissue so that cancer can be accurately diagnosed, correctly staged, and appropriately treated. This chemical is no longer available. We have not been doing tests from 26 May 2023. A tender was called and a new supplier was selected, but he has not supplied the chemical,” he said.

Dharmawickrama said that the PET scanner must always be available because there is a long list of people waiting to be tested. The PET scan was bought with public donations, and the state has only to maintain it.

“The hospital administration knows when it should call for tenders for various requirements. We all know how long it takes,” Dharmawickrama said.

The CT scanner at the accident ward in the National Hospital, too, has broken down, Dharmawickrama said. This is an old machine, and there is a debate on whether this should be replaced, he said. However, given that the accident ward needs a CT scanner, the machine should be brought online soon, he said.

One of the three machines in the Cardiac catheterisation unit of the National Hospital of Sri Lanka (NHSL), too, had broken down a few months ago, Dharmawickrama said, adding that the NHSL had an eight-month waiting list for tests related to heart issues, he said.

“The other hospitals, too, are facing problems. One of the two machines used for coronary angiograms in the Kandy General Hospital has broken down. The hospital also has two linear accelerator machines to treat cancer patients. However, due to a problem with the cooling system, these machines have not been used since November 2022,” he said.

The CT machine at the Badulla Hospital has also broken down, and patients are being taken to Nuwara Eliya and Monaragala hospitals at great cost, Dharmawickrama said. The CT machine was relatively new and still under warranty, but the hospital had not signed a post service agreement with the supplier.

“Once the service agreement with the supplier is signed, the company will replace the x-ray tube in the machine. We probably have spent more than 4.9 million to transport patients. Before that, we spent 2.5 million a week to get tests done through the private sector when both CT scanners at Karapitiya Hospital broke down. Now, one machine works,” he said.

Commenting on the problems with machinery, Dr. Aluthge said that there was rampant corruption in the health sector. Therefore, it was not possible to brush aside allegations that health administrators were deliberately undermining the state healthcare system for the benefit of the private sector.

“Most of the health administrators have been in the system for decades, and they like to maintain the system as it is. If a test is not available in the state sector and if it is a life-or-death situation, people will even sell their houses and get tests done in the private sector. We need to overhaul the entire system,” Dr. Aluthge said.

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