The announcement made by Health Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva that the Health budget would be increased three fold next year no doubt would be received with relief all round. According to the Minister this is with a view to uplift the existing health facilities in the country. Treasury approval has already been granted for the increase. This means the country s health budget would reach a staggering Rs. 267,000 million. Addressing the inauguration of the Nirogi Lanka project the Minister said the Government is fully committed to a free health service to the public.
Of course the country s ailing health sector certainly needs a shot in the arm and hopefully the additional finds pumped into the system could herald a turn around in this most vital public service.
To begin with the health sector should undergo a complete overhaul with the various shortcomings identified and remedies applied. What is needed is a holistic approach instead of the piece meal solutions hitherto applied. Priority should be given to eradicating rampant waste in Government hospitals and instilling discipline. We boast that our Health service is one of the best in Asia but some of the basic necessities are lacking in our hospitals.
It was only the other day that the media highlighted the absence of a dialysis machine for Kidney patients at the Anuradhapura Hospital. Frequent reports emerge of malfunctioning vital apparatus particularly in rural hospitals endangering patients lives. Hopefully these shortcomings will be addressed with the increase in funds. No doubt much of this money would go towards rehabilitating the battered health sector in the North. The rebuilding of hospitals alone would be a daunting task that would require vast resources.
There is also the question of related infrastructure which when combined would need much more than a trebling of the health budget. This would be an ideal time for the Government to seek foreign assistance to rebuild the Health sector in the North. The humanitarian nature of the project would no doubt draw a positive response. With the release of IDPs on the horizon, the need for proper health centres and facilities cannot be overemphasized.
The Ministry will also have to extend the various health and nutrition programs of the South which were disrupted in the North all these years. Not only will it have to rebuild all Government hospitals which were used by the terrorists to fire at the troops but also equip them with all the modern facilities.
The people of the North who underwent untold suffering should be given the best of healthcare and medical facilities. Hence the Health Ministry will have to start from scratch in the North considering the massive devastation wrought by 30 years of war.
Taking into account the vastness of the job at hand, we wonder if a three fold increase in the Health budget would meet even part of the demand. Beside attention to the North cannot be at the cost to neglecting the health sector as a whole. The Health Minister already has enough on his plate combatting dengue, chikungunya, rat fever and what not. For the first time a Health team was dispatched to the North to fight dengue - a clear indication that the North is coming into the general orbit after over three decades.
Certainly the Health Ministry s prime attention has to focus on the North with most of the resources from the Health budget diverted towards rebuilding the devastated Health infrastructure. But there is much that needs to be done in the rest of the health sector too. Although the Minister said that free health will continue the high price of drugs have negated this claim.
One has only pick up a newspaper to see lament of patients mostly the aged over the high price of drugs. A majority of these people are retired pensioners with life threatening illnesses who cannot afford the prohibitive cost of these drugs. Therefore some scheme should be evolved to provide concessions to such vulnerable sections of society for it is a matter of life and death. It is hoped this will be possible with a threefold increase in the health budget.
The increase in the health budget should also be an impetus to the on going program of preventive health. The Ministry should now be able to carry out a more robust campaign to eradicate all communicable diseases.
The additional funds should be channelled to step up the anti-dengue campaign so that next year would see a dwindling number of dengue cases. Hopefully the unreasonable demands by the doctors, nurses, paramedics and other health will not eat into the inflated health budget negating the Government s well intentioned plans of creating a healthy nation.