With the Milkgate crisis being taken up at the highest levels now and the Government likely to move fast to revive the liquid milk industry here and drastically reduce the staggering 40 billon rupees spent annually on the import of powdered milk, more attention will be given to another important issue – medicinal drugs.
The Ministry of Science and Technology and its Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) which has highly-qualified professionals on its staff and has the latest equipment, says it has started testing the safety and quality of food items including milk powder and other dairy products, bottled water and other soft drinks.
Since the globalised capitalist market economic policy was swallowed wholesale by Sri Lanka in 1977, Sri Lanka has been importing thousands of non-essential items of food and medicinal drugs. The rupees forty billion spent annually on milk powder imports mainly from New Zealand and Australia is much higher than the entire annual budget allocation for the health and education sectors. The cost of imported medicinal drugs under a variety of brand names must be even more than that because pharmacologists believe that a record number of some 13,000 to 15,000 drugs have been registered for import.
Just as the transnational milk powder companies and their neo-colonial agendas are being exposed now, the truth about transnational drug companies and how they are deceiving us is also being exposed now. One of the most shocking reports came from the US state of Michigan yesterday. Some medical specialist there has been charged with defrauding a staggering USD35 million from the Medicare system by deliberately misdiagnosing hundreds of patients by telling them they are suffering from cancer and subjecting them to the ordeal of chemotherapy for several months.
One of the eminent physicians telling the people the truth about trans-national drug companies, how they are deceiving us and what we can do about it is Professor Carlo Fonseka, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Medical Council. These TNCs are super-super profits makers, and one of the evils or deceptions they indulge in is to first manufacture a disease and then manufacture an expensive pill to cure it. They are able or even encouraged to do this because hundreds of medical consultants are under obligation to the TNCs because they accept multi-million rupee sponsorships, scholarships, pleasure trips for the family and other perks. A Sunday newspaper disclosed last week that even among paediatricians more than 90% were under different levels of obligation and therefore cannot give top priority to the wellbeing of the innocent children.
As a first step towards restoring a health service where the wellbeing of the patient is given top priority, the cabinet as far back as October 2005, approved a comprehensive draft for a National Medicinal Drugs Policy whereby quality drugs could be made available to all people. What happened and what is happening to this legislation could find a place in a medical fiction novel with the Health Minister telling Parliament recently that the draft had disappeared. How this could happen in this era of modern technology is a mystery. But Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena gave a clue at a recent meeting when he said he was regularly surrounded by the big bosses of transnational drug companies while many Health Ministry officials were known to be bribe takers.
The People’s Movement for the Rights of Patients and other health rights groups believe that just as the trans-national milk powder companies and their medical accomplices here are being exposed now, the same will happen in the medical field where TNCs are making millions, private hospitals have become big profit-making businesses, medical consultants and pharmacies are making millions, while unsuspecting patients are being pick-pocketed.