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Ideal of affordable healthcare

Sep 4, 2011 2:30:26 PM - www.ft.lk

THE more important a subject is the more controversial it can become. Pharmacies that are not operating according to regulations are the latest crusade of the health officials. In the latest measure to ensure that the medicines are given to people in a safe manner the Health Ministry is planning to introduce legislation so that it is mandatory for all pharmacies to have air conditioning.

On the one hand the logic is understandable; it makes sense to ensure that the medicines are kept in the best possible environment. Yet on the other hand when pharmacy owners are told to upgrade they will naturally pass that cost onto the consumer. This is doubly dangerous in a situation where vulnerable groups such as elders are not given comprehensive assistance to fund their medical needs.

Obtaining drugs in premium condition needs to be balanced with the cost of medication. Increasingly most people, especially elders, are finding it difficult to fund their regular medical needs. Given that older people need to have consistent medication, any moves that will result in the price of drugs increasing should be avoided.
With one of the fastest aging populations in the world Sri Lanka needs to be conscious of the consequences of legal changes to the system. As well intentioned as these measures may be there must be due consideration given to the results of making quick decisions. In the last week 189 pharmacies were caught either having substandard drugs or being unable to provide the right medication for the prescriptions that they are given. This is a huge problem indeed and one can assume that the situation is no better in areas outside the capital.
With medical tangles rising from every point of the private and public sphere a larger framework to address these issues and deal with their consequences need to be discussed. Random and often arbitrary decisions can often worsen a situation rather than improving it. One instance is that a few weeks ago the Health Minister decided to ban public hospitals from handing out cases to be tested in private medical centres.
With massive corruption and wastage happening from tender procedures to purchase drugs right down to dispensing of medication in pharmacies, it is clear that the entire healthcare system is sick. It is impractical and frankly impossible to solve all these issues but attempts being made are commended. Nonetheless it is important to have a broader discussion forum before implementing any legal changes.
In an environment where there is no price control mechanism for medication it is even more essential to not put pressure on prices. Pharmacies should increase their standards, there is no argument on that point, but is must be done in such a way so as not to burden the consumer even more.
Healthcare is an essential part of life. As a fundamental right all people should have access to it and be able to fulfil their needs. This means that the authorities will have to play a fine balancing game with the problems and finding solutions for them.