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Sri Lanka’s health care in distress as doctors leave for Middle East and other countries

COLOMBO: After losing access to most medicines and medical supplies when their country sank into a financial crisis earlier this year, Sri Lankans are also losing doctors as many migrate to the Middle East and countries Westerners with more opportunities.

People are grappling with daily power cuts and shortages of basic commodities amid the worst economic crisis since Sri Lanka gained independence from the British in 1948. The island nation of 22 million people has officially defaulted in April and, without foreign currency reserves, could not pay for imports.

Medical professionals in the country, which relies on imported drugs for around 85% of its pharmaceutical needs, have been sounding alarm bells for months, saying they are struggling to provide adequate and timely treatment to patients. .

Working conditions and little hope for improvement have forced hundreds to leave lately, and Sri Lanka’s Overseas Employment Bureau says out-migration is on the rise .

“There is a growing trend of professionals leaving the island in search of greener pastures due to the current situation in the country,” office managing director Priyantha Senanayake told Arab News earlier this week. week. “A good number of doctors have also left.”

Data from the Association of Government Physicians shows that at least 500 doctors from public medical institutions migrated overseas in the first eight months of 2022.

But the actual number may be much higher. Dr Ruvaiz Haniffa, former president of the Sri Lanka Medical Association, said at least 100 other doctors working in the private sector have also left, while those who traveled for training and did not return did not have not yet been counted.

“We don’t have an accurate estimate of doctors sent by the state for overseas training at state expense who have decided not to return at least for the foreseeable future,” he said. told Arab News.

“For postgraduate studies, they mainly go to Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. For use in Australia, UK and New Zealand. Mid-level doctors mainly seek employment in Middle Eastern countries, especially Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

And there was no way to stop them from leaving, Dr Haniffa added.

“The government, while aware of this massive brain drain, is not proactively or even reactively trying to stem it not because it doesn’t want to, but simply because it can’t. .”

Although official estimates are not yet exact, the magnitude of the situation can be illustrated by the fact that Sri Lanka has already lost 25% of specialists treating kidney disease.

“Of the 40 nephrologists in Sri Lanka, 10 have left the country,” said Omar Sheriff, chief executive of Western Hospital Colombo, the leading kidney transplant center in Sri Lanka.

“Most of them go to the UK because they can not only get more lucrative income but also get higher education.”

The opportunity to advance in their careers is one of the main forces motivating specialists to migrate as they do not see this opportunity coming anytime soon in their crisis country.

A doctor at a leading government hospital in Colombo, who asked not to be named, said the medical profession had recently been “downgraded to a lower level in society”.

Without supplies to perform their duties, doctors are under increasing pressure and face increasing stress in a situation where their hands are tied.

“There is a shortage of important drugs to treat people,” the doctor said. “It’s a sad situation.”


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