Amid confusion and threats, Health Minister may act at last - Editorial

4 March 2013 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The Health Minister and the ruling SLFP’s veteran General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena has charged that there is a conspiracy to destroy him and that it was being hatched by various groups including a drug mafia because he was finalising legislation to implement the National Medicinal Drugs Policy (NMDP) to provide quality drugs to people at affordable prices.

Addressing a news conference last Wednesday, an angry minister said the headline-hitting incident involving his son and the son of a DIG in Passikudah was part of this conspiracy to discredit or even politically destroy him. The minister made wide-ranging accusations, so much so that some journalists asked the Cabinet spokesman the next day whether the minister implied that some leaders in the Government also were involved in the conspiracy. This comes amid speculation that with Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne being seriously ill, Minister Sirisena is one of the contenders for the premiership while one or two members of the ruling family may also be vying for it. Making a sort of a joke of it, Minister Mervyn Silva who holds a portfolio, which is somewhat  cynical claimed he was the most suitable candidate for the premiership. He made that claim at a news conference where he threw scurrilous and defamatory remarks about former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

Whatever the political diagnosis about the plight of the Health Minister or the tussle for the premiership, the People’s Movement for the Rights of Patients (PMRP) and other health action groups have welcomed the minister’s pledge that despite the threats, he is determined to implement the NMDP based on Professor Senaka Bibile’s Essential Medicines Concept.

A comprehensive draft for the NMDP was submitted to the Cabinet in July 2005 by Professor Krishantha Weerasuriya, the World Health Organisation’s South Asian advisor on drug policy. He submitted the draft after several rounds of consultation with all stake holders including the PMRP.  The Cabinet approved the draft in October 2005. Despite several pledges by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, former Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva and Mr. Sirisena, legislation for the NMDP has still not been presented in Parliament. In 2009, the PMRP filed a petition in the Supreme Court saying the delay in providing quality drugs to the people at affordable prices is a violation of the fundamental rights of the people. Every time the case came up, senior state counsel promised the Supreme Court that the legislation would be introduced soon, but the word ‘soon’ in political terms probably means several years.

Now at last the Minister has vowed to present the legislation, and patients’ rights groups hope it will come this month as a national New Year gift to millions of people and generations to come. When the NMDP is implemented, the people will get quality drugs at affordable prices, there will be effective quality control and post marketing surveillance while Sri Lanka could save millions of dollars in foreign exchange annually by stopping the import of thousands of non-essential drugs. 
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