‘We should buy drugs from local companies under a

buy-back guarantee formula’
– Dr. Amal Harsha De Silva

Importers merely doing a buying and selling business

Sri Lanka not only imports medical supplies, but also religiously brings down water in the form of saline from various parts of the world such as Germany, Japan, India, Indonesia and Bangladesh. At present, the country imports 70% of drugs and 90% of medical devices, says Dr Amal Harsha De Silva, Additional Secretary and Western Provincial Director of Health.

"Funds allocated for drugs and devices simply go to medical importers who bring them down fueling nothing but a buying and selling business. But, if we give a buy-back guarantee for local manufacturing companies and purchase drugs from them, we could drastically reduce the cost of these products while facilitating technology transfer to Sri Lanka", he noted.

This will encourage big pharma companies to establish their manufacturing plants in Sri Lanka, and in turn create business opportunities and jobs within the country. These companies will have the market access to our neighboring countries having one-third of the global population, especially through our free trade agreements, he said.

De Silva was delivering the Presidential Address under the theme "Making Sri Lanka a miracle destination for healthcare Strategizing investment" at the Induction as President of the College of Medical Administrators of Sri Lanka (CMASL) recently.

The chief guest was Health Minister, Maithripala Sirisena, while Prof. Gunapala Nanayakkara, Chairman, Graduate School of Management, was the guest-of-honor.

"Today, funds are allocated towards improving the knowledge and skills of health personnel under our own roof, whether it is basic or in-service training. Ideally, these funds should be allocated to independent universities or training institutes where they not only train public sector health personnel but also those of the private sector", he said.

This also gives opportunity to attract candidates from abroad and can bring back substantial foreign exchange. Our training courses are popular and easily marketable in Maldives, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. At present, Sri Lanka sends doctors overseas for training. They go to different countries, he explained.

"Our students also go to different parts of the world to obtain medical degrees, tolerating the harshest of winters to the hottest of summers. They obtain degrees from Russia, China, Bangladesh, Nepal, Australia, Bulgaria, Latvia, UK, US etc. We all know that our training conditions are far better than some of these countries. We not only can prevent an exodus of foreign exchange, but also provide training for most developing and developed countries", he noted.

The initiative by Dr. Neville Fernando to establish a private medical school with Russian collaboration and a teaching hospital is commendable. He has invested around Rs. 4 billion on this project. If he had invested this money in a bank, his generation could have lived off the interest without him being subject to unnecessary criticism. But, he has chosen otherwise, which created a significant change to keep local students and attract foreign students to Sri Lanka, the new CMASL president stressed.

Sri Lanka can be justifiably proud of achieving and maintaining a relatively high national health standard in the international arena. Maternal and child mortality rates have come down and some communicable diseases are on the decline or eradicated. Life expectancy is increasing. In 2013, Sri Lanka was ranked 92nd among 186 countries in terms of Human Development Index (HDI), De Silva explained.

He said the private sector healthcare investment has been on the increase. The sector now has nearly 200 private hospitals catering to the increasing demand for out-patients as well as in-patients. Investment in advanced medical technology is taking place in competition with the public health system. Overall, this is a healthy development.

An immediate investment area is medical tourism. Traditionally, Sri Lankans have been seeking treatment abroad for many illnesses, mostly for By-Pass operations. But in the recent past, this has reduced drastically due to private and public initiatives. There are Sri Lankans living overseas coming home for heart surgeries, De Silva emphasized.

"If we take an example, Nawaloka hospitals have performed around 25,000 by-pass surgeries. If these patients went abroad for treatment, the country would have spent around Rs. 25 billion as foreign exchange", he noted.

He said the College of Medical Administrators stands for safeguarding and improving medical standards and values in Sri Lanka. "It is our duty to see that our members adhere to medical standards, provide an environment conducive to the sound practice of medical standards, and learn and absorb global best practices in administration of our health institutions and systems".

It is a duty of the College to assist the government to formulate national health policies, and shoulder the responsibility for their effective implementation, De Silva outlined. "We are pleased that we have an accomplished Health Minister, who listens to professional views on one hand, and who well articulates the health needs and priorities for the people on the other".

Amongst those present at the induction were Investment Promotion Minister, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, Senior Ministers A. H. M. Fowzie and P. Dayaratna, who served as one-time Health Ministers, Public Relations and Public Affairs Minister, Mervyn Silva, Deputy Health Minister, Lalith Dissanayake, former Health Secretary, Dr. Athula Kahadaliyanage and WHO Country Representative/Deputy Representative of UNICEF, Antonia De Meo.

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