New strategies are needed to mitigate healthcare roadblocks – Janaka Perera

As the COVID-19 epidemic continues to plague Sri Lanka, the country needs to scale up and be ready for the worst through the effective coordination of healthcare resources and infrastructure. Meanwhile, demands for personal protective equipment (PPE) and the vaccination of front line workers have figured largely in a growing wave of public sector workers’ struggles.

The nation is facing a host of serious challenges in terms of arresting the negative impacts of the pandemic on the economy while containing the spread of the disease. Trade union action has also taken place in various branches of the healthcare sector over different issues.

With the Delta variant spreading across the island, we can’t risk waiting for fresh batches of vaccines to reach our shores. So we must begin prioritising how our healthcare system will handle another wave. Sri Lanka still has the opportunity to mitigate the impact of the next waves of COVID-19.

Scaling up healthcare capacities with available resources and reaching out to other countries to ensure that more of the same are in place needs to be done urgently. The government must prevent the chaos of another major outbreak.

And there’s an opportunity to utilise technology and data to make evidence-driven policy decisions that will protect Sri Lankans from future pandemic related crises.

Is the existing public healthcare system ill-equipped to provide the long-term care associated with the treatment of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) including cancer?

It’s not clear to what extent the government can meet the growing cost of treatment. A shortage of skilled medical professionals is also preventing the healthcare sector from being brought in line with international standards.

Although the private sector can address some of the population’s growing medical needs, it is unlikely to invest in facilities in the rural areas where most people are unable to afford private healthcare. Such people will be particularly vulnerable since they won’t be able to access private medical facilities.

Another problem is the impediments that Ayurveda and indigenous medical practitioners face in practising their profession. If the system has acceptance among many sections of society, people should have the right to choose the type of treatment they want as long as it operates within a set of rules that ensure protection of their rights as consumers.

Governments in many countries have approved homeopathy and chiropractics although there’s no Western scientific basis for them at the moment. Medicine is not an exact science like physics or chemistry; in contrast, even if the treatment fails in many medical practices, it can still be a valuable process much of the time.

Ayurveda and indigenous hospitals should be supported, and allowed to practise with the same responsibilities, liabilities and restrictions imposed on other medical facilities.

To dismiss the efficacy of traditional Eastern medicine as merely a placebo effect or even dangerous simply because it hasn’t been tested according to Western scientific methods is ridiculous. Ayurvedic and indigenous treatment for some illnesses have been time-tested for generations.

The WHO Global Report on Traditional and Complementary Medicine 2019 provides valuable information for policy makers, healthcare professionals and the public, to enable them to enjoy the contribution by traditional and complementary medicine (T&CM), for health and wellbeing.

Both allopathic and Ayurveda medicines have proven capabilities to cure different illnesses. But neither has guaranteed that all patients can be cured under its treatment. A patient may succumb to an illness due to various reasons ranging from misdiagnosis to ineffective treatment or even negligence.

The problem with some Sri Lankan allopathic doctors is the assumption that they alone practise medicine. They even scoff at acupuncture that’s been practised for thousands of years in China.

This is the reason why countries like India and China allow the two systems of medicine to complement each other.

No one denies the curative powers of Western medicinal drugs. But the tragedy is that the multinational drug mafia has turned even healthy people into those who are addicted to pills, tablets and capsules. In the past, Eastern medical practitioners taught us that the right food is medicine whereas big pharma has turned medicine into food.

T&CM is an important and often underestimated health resource with many applications, especially in the prevention and management of lifestyle related chronic illnesses, and in meeting the health needs of ageing populations.

Given the unique health challenges of the 21st century, the interest in T&CM is undergoing a revival.

Monitoring health trends is a core function of the WHO; it is a key to unlocking support for countries in generating evidence-based policies and strategic plans.