Q: The National Drug Policy has run into some difficulties, with the Draft Act drawn up by the Legal Draftsman’s Department going missing. What is the progress on this front?
The National Drug Policy that we have decided on has been the one that was formulated by Prof. Senaka Bible. I think the National Drug Policy has been discussed in our country for over 40 years and there have been a series of debates on the issue. The government and the people have many expectations for this Policy and its implementation.
In 2006 the Ministry of Health published the National Drug Policy based on the recommendations and guidance by Prof. Senaka Bible. I have been the Health Minister for three years now and my main aim when I took up my position was to ensure that the Drug Policy was put in place. However, when I first came to the Ministry, for over a year, I was not able to properly gather information on the Policy because certain individuals in the Ministry were hiding information from me. I appointed a number of committees and was carrying out activities and in between this, I was told that there had been some information gathered on the issue—there were issues of this nature that I had to face.
On the other hand the biggest blow, from the adoption of this procedure is to the Multinational companies that sell drugs to the public. However I have always been of the premise that regardless of who we offend, we have to adopt a policy.
Within one and a half years of taking over the Health Ministry I was able to prepare all the documents necessary to put in place, an Act necessary to implement the Policy. After this, I sent all the documents to the Legal Draftsman’s Department to undertake the wording of the Act. However a week before the Act was to be handed over, it went missing. Therefore the Act has to be redrafted from the beginning; to further complicate matters officials of the Legal Draftsman’s Department had also been changed. Therefore they have restarted work on the Act. Some media outlets had reported that these documents had gone missing at the Ministry of Health, however it was not our fault and no such misplacement happened on our part. We have all the reports necessary, it is just the legal documents that we had handed over.
At present the Legal Draftsman’s Department has notified us that as soon as they can they will complete work on the Act and hand it over to us. After it is handed over to us we will examine the Act and then make any amendments and send it to the Attorney General. Thereafter once he approves it, I will present it at the Cabinet and finally to Parliament.
Therefore there are so many obstacles from the business sectors, internal forces and external forces—but I plan on overcoming these issues and presenting it in Parliament before my tenure as Minister of Health comes to an end. However I wonder whether destiny will allow me this opportunity.
Q: How soon can we expect this to be presented in Parliament?
I believe that the Legal Draftsman’s Department will hand this over to us in a few weeks and then by the middle of this year I should be able to present this to parliament.
Q: For a government Department to have misplaced a document of such importance and to not have any backup copies, is utterly implausible and irresponsible.
But it was not my fault or the fault of my department. The head of the Legal Draftsman’s Department retired and then she promised me that it was on her computer but in the end I don’t know what happened—maybe some bacteria entered the computer.
Q: The World Health Organisation recently released a report on the cases of Chronic Kidney Disease in Sri Lanka, what is the government’s plan to address this major health concern, especially for people in the North Central Province?
This increase in Chronic Kidney Disease is not something that took place recently; it is something that has been happening over the past 10 to 15 years. The increase in the number of patients had been a concern for the government and the Ministry of Health and we have devoted resources to combat the disease.
Prior to becoming the Health Minister, around 13 years ago I devoted over 10 Million from the in order to treat this disease. There are a number of doctors who are working to help treat this disease.
In addition to treatment the government has also looked into the means of preventing this disease, and has carried out research into the cause for this illness. However the reports that have been published have contradicted each other and we are still unable to find out the real reason for the spread of the disease—all the research has been debatable and inconclusive.
It is in this context that the WHO and the government collaborated on a Report to find out the real reason for the spread of the disease. The WHO gave us an initial assessment last year and the final assessment was received by us last week and we will study it and release the findings to the public.
In addition to the WHO report we are also considering the findings of local universities that have done research into this matter.
Our main aim of assessing these reports is to be able to provide the people with the necessary information to avoid contracting this disease. We see that it is the agricultural community that is most affected by the disease, reports suggest that pesticides, water and certain plants and other items that are consumed by the public cause the disease. However there are certain recommendations that I think of not only as the Minister of Health but also as a boy that grew up in the village. They say that fresh water fish (Waw Malu) and lotus roots (Nelum Ala) are causing the disease, however as generational farming communities it is difficult for us to think that these consumables cause illness. Our people have eaten these things from the time of kings.
Therefore we need to consider not just the scientific content of these reports. We need to see the practical side of these recommendations as well.
The issue is also spreading outside the North-Central province. Hambantota, Kurunagala, Badulla and Monoragala have also reported cases. Fewer cases are reported in the highlands but we know that in the farming activities of these areas there is a high content of pesticides used. Therefore it’s difficult to come to a conclusion as to what is causing the illness.
On the other hand the government is doing all that it can to prepare the necessary treatments for patients suffering from the disease.