The line from the Dhammapada Arogya Parama Labha which translated means "Health is the ultimate profit" is commonly displayed in all Government run hospitals. Better health is central to human happiness and well-being. It also makes an important contribution to economic progress, as healthy populations live longer, are more productive, and save more.
Many factors influence health status and a country's ability to provide quality health services for its people. Ministries of Health are important actors, but so are other Government departments, donor organizations, civil society groups and communities themselves. For example: investments in roads can improve access to health services; inflation targets can constrain health spending; and civil service reform can create opportunities - or limits - to hiring more health workers. But none are more important than the personal drive of an individual that becomes a collective countrywide enthusiasm and action plan that makes any health plan or national health agenda possible.
This year has been somewhat good to the country- If you completely disregard the annual right-on-the-clock dengue outbreaks that take place twice a year and the increase of casualty rates of non-communicable diseases. We have been declared malaria, filariasis and leprosy free. Yet, we are not far out of the gutter. In this scenario came yesterday's Parliamentary debate on the health Budget for the country's next fiscal year.
The Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine recently claimed that Sri Lanka is in dire need of 1,250 types of medicines, 80 per cent of which would be locally manufactured by 2019, through the establishment of several Pharmaceutical manufacturing plants.
According to the subject Ministry, the latter would be achieved via the signing of 38 Memorandums of Understanding in the near future.
Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne made this statement, examining the three-year progress report of the Ministry and its activities, prior to taking up the 2018 Health Ministry Heads of Expenditure. Accordingly, he noted that the programmes initiated by the Ministry to address communicable diseases such as Rubella, Rabies and Mother-to-Son Transmission of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus will provide solutions to the issues by 2020.
He noted that the Ministry's work stands as an example to other countries, as thus acknowledged by the United Nations and the World Health Organisation.
He also noted that programmes to reduce the fatality rates that result from non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure, will produce results in 2025 with a 25 per cent reduction. More so, the country wide consumption of alcohol will be reduced by 10 per cent, usage of salt by 30 per cent and consumption of cigarettes by 30 per cent by 2025, he predicted.
He added that the 80 per cent coverage of the Ministry's advisory images on cigarette packets will be increased to 90 per cent and a tax hike on cigarettes would be brought in the foreseeable future.
While this National Health Strategic Plan seems like the best thing the country would hope for, one must not disregard the numerous challenges that will stand in its way. Furthermore, one must also note the psychological perception we as a nation has towards sudden change. Thus, this strategic notion comes with a prior warning; the change must be made gradually and not instantaneously. After all, what's, the use of a strategic move if it is not executed at the right time. Of course, this is only the beginning of the problems the Ministry will have to face under the current political circumstances in the country.
It would most certainly be great if these strategic actions are brought before the country. It is no secret that the Government spends millions and millions, cash in bucket loads, every year in order maintain and sustain the country's free health service.
Apart from the already established private health sector which itself is a profitable service, it can provide a potential way of earning back what has been spent, without a possible backlash on the nation.
Sadly, these changes will be met with protests from all angles; from the ill-informed population to the multimillion dollar pharmaceutical industries that influence Governments as non-state actors, there are so many potential challengers to these programmes, no matter how important they are to our livelihood. And it is the government's duty to handle the politics and see that these criteria are met before it's too late.
Ceylon Today, December 6, 2017