‘People are going to die’: crisis-hit Sri Lanka runs out of medicine


Chandrapala Weerasuriya can’t remember when he last took his medication. The 67-year-old retired businessman, living in Sri Lanka’s Gampaha district, has always relied on a drug to keep at bay his hereditary nervous condition, which makes him dizzy and unable to walk.

But since his prescription recently ran out, he cannot get another supply. The drug is simply not available in Sri Lanka any more.

“I am afraid that I might become paralysed because there is no one to care for us,” he said fretfully. “My wife and I do everything alone. We split the household chores and manage it between ourselves. My wife has a knee problem and she can barely walk.”

Sri Lanka’s financial crisis, its worst since independence, is swiftly becoming an alarming health crisis. The government’s coffers have fallen to their lowest levels on record and last week the country was forced to default on its international loans for the first time in its history. Without crucial foreign currency, Sri Lanka has been unable to import the essentials: food, fuel – and medicine.

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.

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