Entire wards are dark and nearly empty in Sri Lanka’s largest hospital, its few remaining patients leaving untreated and still in pain, and Doctors prevented from even arriving for their shifts.
An unprecedented economic crisis has dealt a body blow to a free and universal healthcare system that just months earlier was the envy of the country’s South Asian neighbours.
Unable to find a ride for the last leg of her journey, she had to limp the last five kilometres (Three miles) on foot.
“Doctors asked me to buy medicines from a private pharmacy, but I don’t have money,” Mary, 70, told AFP.
The National Hospital normally caters to people all over the island nation in need of specialist treatment, but it now runs on reduced staff and many of its 3,400 beds are lying unused.
“Patients scheduled for surgeries are not reporting,” Dr. Vasan Ratnasingham, a member of a Government Medical Officers’ Association, told AFP.
Sri Lanka imports 85 percent of its medicines and medical equipment, along with raw materials to manufacture the remaining share of its needs.
“Normal antibiotics, paediatric medicines, and painkillers are in extremely short supply. Other medicines have become up to four times expensive in the last three months,” pharmacy owner K. Mathiyalagan told AFP.
“A lot of basic medicines are completely out of stock,” he added. “Doctors prescribe without knowing what is available in the pharmacies.”
Health Ministry Officials declined to give details about the present state of Sri Lanka’s public health services, on which 90 percent of the population depends.
“Sri Lanka’s once-strong healthcare system is now in jeopardy,” the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations, Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, said in a statement. “The most vulnerable are facing the greatest impact.”
Bangladesh, India, Japan and other countries have helped with donations for the healthcare sector, while Sri Lankans living abroad have pitched in by sending home pharmaceuticals and medical equipment.
Hyperinflation has driven food prices so high that many households are struggling to keep themselves fed.
If the crisis drags on, “More infants will die, and malnutrition will be rampant in Sri Lanka,” Dr. Vasan of the Medical Officers’ Association told AFP.