When the worst economic crisis in decades broke out in Sri Lanka, the shortage was so severe that hospitals no longer performed surgery to save the sick. That’s when Kavindya Thennakoon knew she needed to do something.
Before boarding a flight from San Francisco, US to Colombo, the Stanford University graduate, who also co-founded a digital education app, posted on social media to ask if her friends, relatives or people who know you need help with medication or not.
More than 50 people have asked Thennakoon to buy medicine. Weighing 60kg, they are packed into suitcases. These are all over-the-counter drugs, but the hospitals have basically run out of them. Many of them are surgical masks, blood sugar test strips and functional foods for new mothers.
However, what hurts Thennakoon most is not being able to buy cancer drugs or injections for premature babies, which are so important for those with the disease. They are drugs that can only be purchased with a doctor’s prescription.
“Hearing people, even though they don’t know each other, begging for help buying medicine when they only have enough for 2-3 days is really heartbreaking. And to realize that our homeland has slipped so steeply is even more painful. feeling worse,” said Thennakoon, 27.
Within a few weeks, the public health system, which received much praise from Sri Lanka for being completely free for 22 million people, had come to a standstill. When the economy is in a prolonged recession, surgeries are postponed because of lack of electricity, lack of medicine, lack of supplies. Many surgeries take place under the light of a flashlight.
With a default, Sri Lanka is spending its last foreign currency imports on food, energy and medicine. However, it is not enough to prevent drug shortages in this country of 22 million people. Without drastic measures, health groups warn that import disruptions could lead to thousands of deaths.
At the moment, public anger has reached its peak. People are flooding the streets of the capital Colombo, expressing outrage at the lack of medicine and other goods and demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. To alleviate this situation, the Sri Lankan community abroad is making efforts to supply patients and doctors, although Thennakoon says they can only support a few “bandage” tools.
Last month, the Sri Lankan government also warned that the supply of more than 100 medical items was running out. Many subjects subject to price controls have failed to keep up with the recent rate of devaluation of the local currency, causing pharmaceutical importers to hesitate to deliver for fear of loss.
Sri Lanka’s health minister, Channa Jayasumana, told Parliament that some medicines are enough for three months, but no new supply will cause shortages afterwards. Currently, there are 140 medicines out of stock in Sri Lanka. This number may increase to 250 types in the coming days.
“I’ve never seen anything this bad,” said Ravi Kumudesh, a union official in the Sri Lankan health sector.
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