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SWEEPING CHANGES IN HEALTH SECTOR

Health Minister Dr.Rajitha Senaratne speaking at a media briefing yesterday. Picture by Roshan Pitipana

Sri Lanka expects to produce 80% of its drug requirements by the end of 2018, which will save USD 400 million plus annually which the government spends for drug importation, Health Minister Dr.Rajitha Senaratne yesterday said.

“Accordingly, the importation of all drugs which can be produced locally, will be stopped by the end of 2018,” he also said.

The Minister also predicted that prices of medicinal drugs will further come down due to them being produced locally.

Minister Senaratne pointed out that Sri Lanka has already begun local drug production at two factories situated in Kandy and Horana. He further stated that a total of 38 agreements have been signed between the government and the local drug manufacturers to produce drugs in Sri Lanka.

It was further pointed out that there were 13 local drug manufacturers who locally produce 82 items for the State Pharmaceuticals Manufacturing Corporation(SPC).

“Ten more local manufacturers producing 40 more items will join the local drug manufacturing in the near future,” the Minister said.

The Minister also pointed out that the SPMC currently manufactures 54 medicinal items, where it will receive 100 more drug items through joint ventures it had engaged in with 37 manufacturing parties.

“Accordingly, Sri Lanka will be able to produce 75 % of the 1,250 essential drugs locally.

Minister Dr.Senaratne made these observations at a media briefing held at the Department of Government Information yesterday.

Minister Senaratne also said citizens are now benefiting from “a real free healthcare system” where as what they had was a system dominated by many multinational corporations selling certain drugs and injections for extremely high prices than actually they are. “These multinational companies who had created a ‘mafia’ were “robbing people at broad daylight.” When the government implemented new health policy prices of certain injections dropped by 51%, 28% and even 84%. There was one injection which was then sold for Rs. 100,000 which they now sell for just Rs. 19,759. So, imagine the kind of profit they earned those days. When we introduced new policies, Health Ministry could make a profit of Rs. 600 million,” Dr. Senaratne said.

Minister Senaratne further listed out several revolutionary steps that will be taken by the government to upgrade Sri Lanka’s healthcare system to a modernized one.

“Accordingly, the country’s health care system will be digitized via an E-Health policy. According to the E-Health policy, all citizens will be issued E-Health Cards which will record their health conditions so that any doctor can have a descriptive medical history of their patients. The E-Health System will be introduced to 45 Hospitals in the next two years and it is to be expanded to 300 hospitals following the initial implementation,Minister Senaratne said.

Minister Senaratne also said that the World Health Organization and the World Bank have agreed to support Sri Lanka for a project to appoint two to three family physicians for every 5000-10000 families in the country. “The project is worth USD 200 million which will be provided by the WHO and the WB.These family physicians are to provide reports on all families they are responsible for, on every six months,” he said.

He further said that the government will restart recruiting Public Health Medical Officers and Public Health Medical Nurses for village level health care monitoring activities. As a part of the same modernisation process, Minister Senaratne said Sri Lanka is now preparing itself to adapt to the new personalize medication system or the “molecular medicine” system that will be popular in the world in near future. He pointed out that this new system addresses the genetics of a health issue.

“I thought I won’t find anybody who has studied genetics, but in there were eleven of them recorded by the Health Ministry. Some have left the country but there are seven of them still remaining in the country. These persons have got MSc qualifications in Genetics. We have now deployed these people to a separate research laboratory. The government is facilitating these persons to achieve their further studies in the same subject area, so when the time comes, Sri Lanka will be ready for this new medication system,” Minister Senaratne said.

Speaking of the shortage of medicines which prevailed a few years back, Minister Senaratne said that a new software has been introduced to track and manage medicine availability in main hospitals in the country. “With this software, all responsible officers can monitor the drug availability of each main hospital and take necessary steps to fulfill such shortages immediately.

“We have also added a feature where these hospitals can Handover-Takeover medicines from the closest hospital available, rather than we sending drugs to hospitals from Colombo. The same software facility will be provided to all the base hospitals as well,” Minister Senaratne pointed out.

“Similarly, the government is to launch a project to manufacture a key ingredient in medical products using liters of blood plasma daily unused in the country,” he added.

“We will have a joint project with United States of America and India to produce certain ingredients which are very important in some medical products. When we export blood plasma, these countries manufacture these ingredients and export them back to our country for very high prices. With this new project, we will receive a quantity of these products for our local use,” he pointed out.

“A similar clinical wastage recycling project, spending Rs. 2600 million will also be launched,” Minister Senaratne pointed out.

He also said that European Standard Hospitals will be established in Hambantota, Panadura, Dambulla, Matale and Ebilipitiya with German, Netherlands and French aids.

Dr.Senaratne said that there is a staff shortage in the health sector and pointed out that he has given directions to the Postgraduate Institute of Medicine (PGIM) to double the number of medical specialists in the country in the next few years.

Meanwhile, a proposal has been submitted for Cabinet approval to prohibit selling of cigarettes in a 500 meter radius of all the schools in Sri Lanka, He said due to measures taken by the government, smoking has been reduced by a 15% over the last two years.He further said the government will completely stop local tobacco production in Sri Lanka by 2020.

To further discourage smoking a plain packaging method for all cigarette packs will be introduced.

Minister Senaratne quoting from the World Health Organization report for the year 2016 said that the WHO has praised the present Healthcare System in Sri Lanka to be a role model to the world. Minister Senaratne also pointed out that cigarette sales has decreased from a 1 billion in quantity and that cigarette companies have recorded a loss of 25 billion after the implementation of these measures.

Meanwhile, according to Dr.Senaratne, the Emergency Medical Service System of the country will soon be strengthened with eight Airbus Helicopters and 28 state-of-the-art emergency vehicles.

While pointing out Sri Lanka only have emergency ambulance service in the country, the Minister said the helicopters will be an efficient addition to the system. Funds for the helicopters and emergency vehicles will be provided by a German Emergency Service following discussions with Minister Rajitha Senaratne.

Dr.Senaratne observed that these new additions will strengthen the 1990 Ambulence Service which has saved thousands of patients with its efficient service.

He pointed out the 1990 service has provided emergency service for 21 children and saved all of them.