Don't fall ill or get into accidents: That’s the advice doctors in Sri Lanka are giving patients as the country's economic crisis leaves its health care system short of drugs and other vital supplies. The South Asian island nation lacks the money to pay for basic imports like fuel and food, and medicine is also running out. "Don't get ill, don’t get injured, don't do anything that will make you go to a hospital for treatment unnecessarily," said Samath Dharmaratne, president of the Sri Lanka Medical Association, per the AP. "That is how I can explain it; this is a serious situation. ... Compared to COVID, as a health emergency today's situation is far, far worse."
Hospitals are struggling to maintain stocks of essential drugs to ensure uninterrupted treatment for cancer patients. They also lack drugs for rabies, epilepsy, and sexually transmitted diseases. Labs don't have enough of the reagents needed to run full blood count tests. Items like suture material, cotton socks for surgery, supplies for blood transfusions, even cotton wool and gauze are running short. "If you are handling animals, be careful. If you get bitten and you need surgery and you get rabies, we don’t have adequate antiserum and rabies vaccines," said Dr. Surantha Perera, vice president of the Sri Lanka Medical Association.
It’s a reversal of decades of improvements thanks to a universal health care system that has raised many measures of health to the levels of much wealthier nations. Life expectancy had risen to nearly 75 years by 2016 from under 72 years in 2000. The country has managed to eliminate malaria, polio, leprosy, the tropical parasitic disease commonly known as elephantiasis, and most other vaccine-preventable diseases. (Read the full story, which looks at that situation 15-year-old Hasini Wasana, who got a kidney transplant nine months ago, is facing.)