Halt this Exodus | Daily News

Halt this Exodus

A news item quoting Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) Media Spokesman Dr. Chamil Wijesinghe that 500 Government doctors had left the country during the past eight months, if true, is certainly cause for grave concern which should get the authorities thinking and a solution found if the country's health service is not to witness a virtual collapse.

The situation is further complicated given a recent revelation by the GMOA that the country is short of 4,000 doctors. The number of interns under training too has dropped drastically which will compound the problem, aggravating the shortage of doctors and medical staff.

Perhaps the GMOA itself should be partly held responsible for the dearth of doctors in the country. Its campaign against the SAITM Campus and the opposition to the absorption of foreign qualified medical students into the State health sector too have contributed to the doctor shortage.

But why didn't the Health Ministry monitor the doctor exodus and arrest the trend at the very outset? What was it doing until the doctors were leaving the country during the past eight months? Nothing can prevent doctors or other professionals from going abroad to better their lot. However, the Ministry ought to have taken note of the growing departure of our medical professionals and persuaded them to remain, perhaps by the offer of additional incentives or perks.

After all, Government doctors are products of the free education system and their first duty lies towards the taxpayers who bore the cost of their education. Hence, if push comes to shove the Government should consider taking drastic measures to stem the alarming tide. It should consider extracting a legally binding undertaking from all Government doctors to serve for a specific period in the country first before considering moving out.

The Government certainly should not lose time in tackling the problem of the dwindling number of doctors in the country, who are increasingly being compelled to seek greener pastures due to the severe economic crisis in the country. If the situation worsens, not only doctors but other professionals too are bound to leave the country in droves. And once they have departed it is foolhardy to imagine that they can be brought back.

Former President Maithripala Sirisena extended an invitation to all Sri Lankan professionals domiciled abroad to return to the country and serve the Motherland. There is no knowing what the response was. But from the looks of things ‘Serving the Motherland’ appeal had plainly not worked. Hence the departed doctors could be lost to the country forever, and the vicious cycle is bound to continue and all the doctors we produce under the free education system will continue to leave until the country is starved of medical professionals to treat the poor.

Meanwhile, doctors are a frustrated lot - their pleas for the replenishment of fast diminishing vital medicines in the Government hospitals going unheeded. Instead, we see a battle of sorts between the Health Minister and Health officials on the question of whose responsibility it is to ensure adequate medical stocks.

The situation is so drastic that the Cancer Hospital in Maharagama has reported a 60 per cent drop in its medicinal stocks. That certain hospitals have no money even to clear their waste piles certainly tells a tale of the unfolding crisis. With most vital medicines and drugs unavailable in Government hospitals, the poor patients are forced to purchase these from private pharmacies at four times the original cost, which they cannot afford, leading to a very dangerous situation. It is therefore left to the authorities to ensure that people do not die by going without their regular medicines.

A majority among this lot could be senior citizens and retirees who depend on the bank interest of their retirement benefits to survive. With the prices of medicines being what they are, it is left to one's imagination to ponder how these poor souls exist at all. If drastic measures are not put in place to ease the drugs and medicines shortage, very soon they are bound to meet with their Maker.

Steps should be taken to identify vulnerable sections and arrangements have to be made to provide them with medicines at subsidized cost at designated centres. Pharmacy owners should be persuaded to reduce their prices, so that the poor could afford to buy their drugs and medicines without undue pressure. After all, pharmacies made huge profits during the pandemic days going by the long queues opposite pharmacies and a flourishing home delivery system that was put in place.

The private sector too should chip in to help out in this desperate situation including private banks which regularly boast of record profits and bumper dividends to shareholders. Desperate situations call for desperate measures. The country is going through such desperation. The poor are crying out for assistance going by the many pathetic pleas made to television by the humble, helpless and the oppressed. Hence this is the time for the Haves to loosen their purse strings a bit and reach out to the Have Nots around the country.


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