Sri Lanka imports more than 80% of its medical supplies. Now almost 200 medical items are in shortage, including 76 essential, life-saving drugs, from blood-thinners for heart attack and stroke patients to antibiotics, rabies vaccines and cancer chemotherapy drugs. Essential surgical equipment and anaesthesia is running out so fast that the decision was made this week for only emergency surgeries, mostly heart and cancer patients, to go ahead. All routine surgeries – anything from hernias to swollen appendixes – have been put on hold. Some government hospitals have been instructed to only admit emergency patients.
“Ultimately, people are definitely going to die,” said a doctor in Colombo who had been told not to speak to the media.
She described how the hospital was so low on certain drugs they had to instruct families of patients to go out to pharmacies and try to buy it themselves. “There have been incidents where the family members have gone around looking for drugs and by the time they’ve come back with the drug, it’s been too late and the patient has died,” she said.
The doctor said the shortages were getting worse. “I’m worried about pregnant mothers because soon I don’t know whether we will have enough drugs to perform cesarian sections,” she said.
Cancer drugs, which are notoriously expensive to import, have been particularly badly hit by shortages in recent weeks, and the responsibility to source them has fallen on the heads of oncologists themselves. They have been putting out global appeals for donations, and writing letters to private supporters, organisations and governments, to ensure cancer treatments are not delayed.