With the cost of living soaring to the highest levels, millions of people are suffering because their healthcare bills often are much more than their expenses for food, clothing, household utilities and education. One visit to a consultant at a private hospital often costs at least Rs. 5000 and if tests, some of them nonessential, are prescribed, the bill could be more than Rs. 10,000. All the needs of life are important while healthcare is often a matter of life or death. Therefore the Government needs to do everything possible to bring down and control healthcare expenses or charges. One of the important areas through which this could be done is by implementing Prof. Senaka Bibile’s essential medicines concept to provide quality drugs to the people at affordable prices.
"Dr. Jayantha Bandara said recently the Government had promised through the ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’ in 2005 to implement the Bibile policy, but no honest attempt had been made. According to Dr. Bandara and the PMRP, the medicinal policy based on the Bibile concept is being implemented successfully in about 100 countries on the recommendation of the WHO."
Last Monday Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena—politically known to be not in a healthy position today—again reassured the people he was doing his best to finalise the bill for the implementation of Senaka Bibile’s National Medicinal Drugs Policy as part of the remedy to restore a health service where the wellbeing of the patients is given top priority. A comprehensive draft for such a policy was worked out in July 2005 by Prof. Krishantha Weerasuriya, a leading pharmacologist and until recently the World Health Organisation’s South Asian Regional Advisor on medicinal drugs policy. Prof. Weerasuriya presented his draft to the then Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva after several rounds of consultation with all stakeholders including patients movements.
The draft was approved by the Cabinet in October 2005 and the Minister appointed a national standing committee to draft legislation for this bill. However for various reasons the bill was delayed and the People’s Movement for the Rights of Patients even filed a fundamental rights petition in the Supreme Court, saying that by delaying the bill the Government was denying the people their fundamental right to obtain healthcare at affordable rates.
The Prof. Senaka Bibile Memorial Organization’s National Organiser Dr. Jayantha Bandara said recently the Government had promised through the ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’ in 2005 to implement the Bibile policy, but no honest attempt had been made.
According to Dr. Bandara and the PMRP, the medicinal policy based on the Bibile concept is being implemented successfully in about 100 countries on the recommendation of the WHO. But even prophets of medicine are not honoured in their own home. So the Bibile policy was scrapped in 1976 when the United States through the influence of transnational pharmaceutical corporations put heavy pressure on the then Government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike. After that the Ranasinghe Premadasa administration also tried to implement the Bibile policy in 1992 but President Premadasa was killed the next year.
Minister Sirisena told the Bibile Commemoration meeting on Monday that when he took over the Health Ministry in 2010 he did not know much about the Bibile policy until patients movements brought it to his attention. Mr. Sirisena said he realised the importance of the Bibile policy, gave priority to it and by the end of 2011 draft legislation was sent to the then Chief Legal Draftswoman for the final touches to be given.
Minister Sirisena charged again that the former Chief Legal Draftswoman had made the legislation disappear. He named her—but the Daily Mirror withholds the name. The Minster even implored God’s curse upon her. When the Minister made this charge on an earlier occasion, the official concerned denied it and said she had sent a hardcopy of the legislation to the Minister and soft copies to top Health Ministry officials before she shut down her computer and retired.
Whoever is lying to whom for whatever reason, millions of people are suffering because of the non-implementation of the Bibile policy and we insist that no one in whatever position has the right to play with the lives of the people.