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Nimal Siripala de Silva: the Man who destroyed health sector in Sri Lanka

Patients face battle of life and death over inferior drugs

By Padmini Matharage
Courtesy: Lakbima News

(November 08, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva has wielded the whip against Trade Union leaders who exposed the shortcomings of the Minister as well as the existence of substandard and contaminated drugs in government hospitals.

Vaccines with pieces of glasses, corroded surgery equipment, saline with hair are among the below par equipment and drugs found.

In addition to that, All Ceylon Health Services Association says that the Health Ministry has issued a circular prohibiting the health staff revealing information about the low standard of drugs and their effects ---- to the media, without the permission of the minister.

Supplying low standard drugs

All Ceylon Medical Officers Association, All Ceylon Nursing Officers Association and the All Ceylon Ayurvedic Medical Officers Association have joined the All Ceylon Health Services Union in the struggle on below par drugs. These united unions have posed several challenges to the Health Minister and the authorities. First is to reveal the actions taken by the Health Minister against the companies that supplied sub-standard drugs. The other challenges are to reveal sums of money charged from the suppliers of the drugs for supplying below par drugs and to reveal the legal actio taken against relevant companies. Representatives of several companies had been called to the Health Ministry recently for inquiries but no significant decision has been made and according to the unions, the representative had enjoyed a tea party at the Ministry, and the officials have started preparing reports after they left.

As the unions point out the Health Ministry has imported 44 below standard drugs last year alone, and more than 50 below par drugs have been imported this year. The Secretary of the All Ceylon Medical Officers Association, Dr Dhammika Pathirana said that the Ministry’s officials have ignored the procedures to be followed in importing drugs. According to him, a sample of each drug should be tested by the National Drug Quality Control Authority and the relevant drug can be imported only on the approval of the Authority. Before the imported stocks are unloaded at the harbour, samples should be tested again for the second time and a third test must be conducted on randomly selected samples during the process of distribution of drugs around the country. But, this third test is never done.

Sri Lanka needs 800 types of drugs but 10,300 types of drugs have been registered. They point out that shouting about the quality is pointless when it is obvious that the Drug Quality Control Authority doesn’t have sufficient human resources to quality control all the 10,300 types of drugs. The unions also reject the statement made by the Health Minister at the Parliament recently about the Rubella vaccine. The Health Minster had said that there is only one company producing the Rubella vaccine and even countries like Australia and England import Rubella vaccine from this same Indian company. Dr. Dhammika Pathirana pointed out that four Rubella vaccine producing companies are registered at the WHO and the type of Rubella vaccine used in England is not the same as vaccine used in Sri Lanka.

“The Health Minister is holding the Senaka Bibile medical policies by its tail. He has to hold it by its head. Government must first limit the importation of unwanted drugs. Drugs must be released to the market in their names. What has happened today is that although drugs are available in the market, pharmacy owners tend to sell the most profitable brand as there are several brands of each medicine.”

Meanwhile, the unions keep charging that the authorities are attempting to suppress the unions. The president of the All Ceylon Medical Officers Association works at the Colombo National hospital and the unions says that the deputy director general (investigations) of the Health Ministry is checking his personal files and leave reports which is not the job of the deputy director.

Dr Athula Kahandaliyanage, secretary of Ministry of Health said:

Steps have been taken to suspend the registration of four companies for two years. If they repeat their actions they will be completely debarred. We have stopped using the below standard vaccines and arrangements are being made to import alternative medicines in place. All the drugs, suspected as below standard, will be removed and suppliers will be charged the relevant sums of money for the removed stocks.

There’s one more thing to be said. According to the Institutions manual, it is wrong for a government officer to reveal the information about the institution to media without informing a superior of the institution. Legal actions will be taken against such persons.

Medicine

“Many problems about medicines have come up in hospitals around the country. Vaccines with pieces of glass, discolored vaccines, corroded surgery equipment and saline with hair and many other medicines, vaccines and equipment with dirt had been discovred.
The authorities have started suppressing the relevant leaders of the unions who revealed these things to the media. The president of the All Ceylon Medical Officers Association works at the Colombo National Hospital and his personal files, leave reports and all the documents are being checked by the deputy director general of the Health Ministry.
“The reason for this suppression is that we did our duty for the public of the country as the leaders of responsible unions, they said. Some people charged that the health workers demanded their rights sacrificing the lives of the patients but today people have understood what we are doing for them. And they are very pleased about us. The government has started suppressing the unions instead of admitting and correcting the weaknesses we point out to them, ” union leaders said.

Dr Dhammika Pathirana, the secretary of the All Ceylon Medical Officers Association added:

A racket of importing unwanted drugs, had begun in Sri Lanka. We need only 800 types of drugs here but 10,300 types of drugs have been imported. There’s no methodology to test these drugs. Although, the National Drug Quality Control Authority conducts tests on drugs they don’t have sufficient human resources for that. As a result high quality drugs aren’t available in Sri Lanka. Not only the companies supplying low standard drugs, but also their director boards must be banned.”
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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