Health crisis looms as Sri Lankan medicines run out

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Colombo (AFP) – By the time he reached a third Colombo pharmacy out of stock of the medicine his cancer-stricken wife desperately needed, Dawood Mohamed Ghany was distraught.

Sri Lanka is running out of dollars to procure vital imports of food and fuel, sparking weeks of protests demanding the government resign.

But it is in the health sector that the consequences of the crisis are most visceral.

Ghany, 63, was trying to stock up on pertuzumab, the monoclonal antibody used to treat breast cancer.

“It was the first time during his cancer treatment that I couldn’t find his medication,” he said as he broke down.

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

Sri Lanka imported about 85% of its pharmaceuticals, but is experiencing its worst economic crisis since 1948.

Several health workers told AFP that the country’s hospitals and pharmacies lacked essential drugs.

Viraj Jayasinghe, a consultant pediatrician at Lady Ridgeway Children’s Hospital, a public facility in Colombo, said his department normally handles up to six months’ worth of supplies.

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

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

Public appeals for help have attracted donations from individuals and organisations, but the Sri Lankan medical fraternity says that is not enough.

Jayasinghe said single-patient nebulizer kits are washed and reused in his ward instead of being thrown away as usual, which increases the possibility of disease transmission, especially given the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s sad, but it’s the reality,” he added.

“The last thing I want is for a child to die in my arms because I have no medicine to deal with.”

‘Heartbreaking’

A national group of private hospitals said on Friday that 70 lifesaving drugs were missing, including anesthetics.

Doctors are already being forced to make heartbreaking decisions.

At Lady Ridgeway Hospital, pediatric surgeon Ananda Lamahewage said she had to halt some non-emergency operations to respond to emergencies, “because at the time when there is a shortage of essential items, we might face mortality”.

In some cases, they had to use less effective substitute drugs, he added.

“Families want the best for their loved ones. But when the best isn’t available, what do I do?”

The burden on healthcare professionals is unavoidable, and every doctor AFP spoke to expressed sadness and helplessness.

“I feel really sorry for myself and for the patients,” Lamahewage said.

Pharmacists who have to disappoint potential customers echo these sentiments.

Shalintha Rodrigo, whose family runs the Union Chemists pharmacy chain – the third store Ghany visited in her vain quest – told AFP they were often only able to partially fill doctors’ prescriptions.

“For example, if a prescription comes for two months, we can only accommodate it for a month or a few weeks,” he said, adding that several antibiotics and cancer drugs were in short supply.

It was the first time the 60-year-old organization had faced such a shortage, he said, calling the situation “heartbreaking”.

For some, the only way to fix the problem is to reduce their opening hours.

A salesman calling himself Vijaytunga, who has run a pharmacy in Colombo for 12 years, said he had just two months of stock left.

“I often have to say no to people now. This is the first time I have faced such a shortage.

“How many times am I going to say no? »

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