Sri Lanka’s healthcare in distress as doctors leave for Middle East, other countries

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COLOMBO: After losing access to most medicines and medical supplies earlier this year as their country plummeted into a financial crisis, Sri Lankans are now losing doctors as many relocate to the Middle East and Western countries with better chances.

People have been dealing with frequent power outages and shortages of basic supplies as the country faces its worst economic crisis since its independence from the British in 1948. The island nation of 22 million people declared bankruptcy in April, leaving it unable to pay for imports due to a lack of foreign currency reserves.

Medical professionals in the country, which relies on imported pharmaceuticals for approximately 85 percent of its pharmaceutical needs, have been warning for months that they are struggling to give timely and adequate treatment to patients.

Hundreds of them have recently left due to poor working conditions and no hope for improvement, and the exodus is becoming more common, according to Sri Lanka’s Foreign Employment Bureau.

“Because of the current scenario in the country, there is a rising tendency of professionals leaving the island in quest of brighter pastures,” the bureau’s general manager Priyantha Senanayake told Arab News earlier this week. “A large number of doctors have also gone.”

According to data from the Government Medical Officers’ Association, at least 500 doctors from state medical institutions left the country in the first eight months of 2022.

However, the true figure could be substantially higher. According to Dr. Ruvaiz Haniffa, former president of the Sri Lanka Medical Association, at least 100 more doctors working in the private sector have departed, while those who traveled for training and have not returned have not been recorded.

“We don’t have a precise estimate of the number of doctors sent by the state for abroad training at state expense who have decided not to return for the foreseeable future,” he told Arab News.

“Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore are the most popular destinations for postgraduate studies.” For employment in Australia, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand. Middle-level doctors primarily seek employment in Middle Eastern nations, particularly Oman and the UAE.”

Dr. Haniffa emphasized that there was no way to stop them from leaving.

“While the government is aware of the tremendous brain drain, it is not acting proactively or even reactively to stem it, not because it does not want to, but simply because it cannot.”

While official estimates are not yet available, the gravity of the crisis can be highlighted by the fact that Sri Lanka has already lost 25% of renal disease specialists.

“Of the 40 nephrologists in Sri Lanka, ten have departed,” said Omar Sheriff, general manager of Western Hospital in Colombo, the country’s largest kidney transplantation clinic.

“The majority of them are traveling to the UK not simply to earn more money but also to further their education.”

One of the biggest motivators for professionals to migrate is the opportunity to advance in their careers, which they do not see coming to their crisis-hit country anytime soon.

According to a doctor from a renowned government hospital in Colombo who asked not to be identified, the medical profession has recently been “downgraded to a lower level in society.”

Medics have been under increasing pressure and stress as they have been unable to do their responsibilities due to a lack of supplies.

“There is a scarcity of critical drugs to treat individuals,” the doctor explained. “This is a sad condition of affairs.”

Source: AFP

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