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Innocent patients in grave danger - Editorial

4 December 2013 07:01 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Medicinal drug prices are rising day by day with more and more people being unable to buy them due to increasing prices as there is little or no price control, monitoring or regulation. In some instances people are known to buy only one or two drugs when about five are prescribed and as a result, their ailments take a long time to heal or they never heal. Even in public hospitals many of the drugs prescribed are not available and patients are forced to buy them from private pharmacies or not buy them at all and suffer the consequences. President Rajapaksa’s Mahinda Chinthanaya manifesto for the election in 2005 and the Idiri Dekma manifesto for the 2010 election pledged that the National Medicinal Drugs Policy (NMDP) based on Prof. Senaka Bibile’s essential medicines concept would be implemented to provide quality drugs to the people at affordable prices. The President repeatedly pledged legislation to implement this policy stating that it would be introduced in Parliament soon. Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena made the same pledge over this issue. It’s now more than eight years since the Cabinet approved the NMDP. What is actually needed is giving it necessary legality and implementing it. But this process keeps dragging on, raising questions as to what is happening or who is blocking the legislation and for what reason.

Some sort of an answer came on Monday from the Chief Legal Draftsman, Aruna Shantha De Silva. Addressing a news conference he said draft legislation to implement the NMDP had been given to the Health Ministry but bureaucrats there were blocking it for some reason though the Minister had publicly expressed keenness to implement it soon. He further said if the Health Ministry officials sent the draft back to him he could finalise it and submit it within a day to get Cabinet and parliamentary approval for it.

The People’s Movement for the Rights of Patients (PMRP) and other health action groups are asking why these Health Ministry officials are blocking or being allowed to block legislation that could bring much-needed relief to millions of people. Not only in Sri Lanka but in several countries the giant trans-national drug companies are known to be using unethical if not deceptive methods to sell thousands of non-essential drugs at highly expensive prices. Sri Lanka has become a major victim of this pharmaceutical racket where they sometimes first manufacture a disease and then manufacture drugs to cure the disease. We appeal to Minister Maithripala Sirisena to act urgently and effectively to implement the NMDP and restore a health service where the well-being of the patients is given top priority. If we cannot do this the people have every reason to ask why while health action groups are again appealing to President Rajapaksa to intervene in this life or death issue.

A PMRP spokesman said if the President or the Minister did not take action, the movement would have no option but to take this case to the court of the people. He said the PMRP was planning to hold demonstrations and distribute leaflets to the people making them aware of what was happening and whether multi-million dollar TNCs were being allowed to manipulate the health service to make millions of dollars in profits.

In 2012 also the ministry accused the then Chief Legal Draftswoman of making the NMDP draft disappear. But the Draftswoman rejected the charge saying she had given soft copies and the hard copy to the ministry before she retired. Now the new Chief Legal Draftsman is saying the same thing—that the ministry officials are playing the disappearing or delaying trick. If ministry officials are being allowed to play tricks with the lives of the people, then innocent patients might have to be warded in Kanatte.  
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