Presidential Secretariat of Sri Lanka

COVID-19 pandemic proved the importance of maintaining a centralized healthcare system – President tells Medical interns

  • Pledges to create a healthy nation during the tenure
  • Novel approach to provide healthcare services to rural communities
  • Sri Lankan public is hungry for development and tired of excuses
  • Pays gratitude to everyone who contributed to control COVID-19 pandemic

 

One of the important lessons emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic is the importance of maintaining a centralized healthcare system President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said.

Although the administration of most of Sri Lanka’s state-run hospitals are vested with the Provincial Councils, fortunately there were enough hospitals nationwide under the management of the Health Ministry that could be utilized without difficulty during the height of the pandemic.

Had we been in a situation where healthcare was a subject completely devolved to the Provincial Councils, the efficacy of Sri Lanka’s response to the pandemic may have been quite different President pointed out.

“Our recent experience reinforces the importance of maintaining responsibility for certain functions with the central Government. Education is another vital area of public life that can be similarly described”.

President Rajapaksa made these remarks delivering the keynote address at the launch of “Good Intern Programme 2020” two-day workshop at Manelwatta Nagananda International Buddhist Studies Institute in Bollagala Kelaniya today (5).

The workshop organized by Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) will be attended by 680 medical graduates awaiting internship. Today’s workshop is the 8th in the series. More than 100 Professors and Medical Consultants will share their thoughts during the workshop.

Commencing the address President said Sri Lanka was successful in containing COVID -19 pandemic primarily to due decisive, early action taken by multiple arms of the Government, and the truly outstanding efforts of our health personnel.

“The outstanding success Sri Lanka achieved in this endeavour came at a time when even some of the most developed countries in the world were unable to respond adequately to the pandemic. Due to a variety of factors, ranging from a delayed response by their Governments, to the lack of universal health insurance, the unpreparedness of their healthcare institutions, the lack of sufficient testing, to the inadequacy of their management systems, the spread of the virus could not be contained in several developed nations”.

President said he commends, pay tribute to, and express his sincere gratitude to all healthcare professionals and others who contributed to Sri Lanka’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 “Sri Lanka’s success in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has been justly commended by international institutions including the World Health Organization and UNICEF, as well as many foreign nations, international commentators and individuals” President pointed out.

One of the core pillars of development is the maintenance of a healthy population. Achieving certain public health goals remains a core responsibility of the Government. I am determined to work towards creating a healthy nation during my tenure as President of this country.

While there is certainly a need to further strengthen the state healthcare system, I believe it is time that we encourage greater use of the facilities we have within this system said the President adding that some innovative thinking towards absorbing state generated funds into the public healthcare system will ultimately benefit the citizens.

“The mandate given to the Government by the people at the Parliamentary Elections just a month ago makes it very clear that the Sri Lankan public is hungry for development and tired of excuses” President added.

Secretary to the Ministry of Health Major General (Retd.) Sanjeewa Munasinghe, medial officers, President of the GMOA Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya and its members and delegated of Society for Health Research and Innovation attended the inaugural session.

Later, President called on the Chief Executive of Manelwatta Nagananda International Buddhist Studies Institute and Chief Incumbent of Kelaniya Manelwatta Vihara Ven. Dr. Bodagama Chandima Thero.

The Thero gifted the President a replica of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi.

President posed for a group photo with Bhikkunis of Buddha Shravika Educational Center in Manelwatta Vihara and children of Dharmachakra Lama Padanama.

Following is the full text of the speech by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the launch of the “Good Intern Programme 2020” – September 5, 2020

Dr. Upul Galappaththi , Member of Parliament,

Health Secretary,

Director General of Health Services,

President GMOA / Founder SHRI,

Executive Committee GMOA,

Executive Committee SHRI,

Chairpersons and speakers of the Good Intern Programme,

Invitees,

Doctors awaiting their internship,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to address you today at the workshop “Good Intern Programme 2020” launched by the Society for Health Research and Innovation in collaboration with the Government Medical Officers’ Association and the Ministry of Health.

The critical importance of the medical profession and healthcare personnel in our society has been dramatically underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic that is currently raging across the world.

That Sri Lanka has been largely spared in this pandemic is due primarily to decisive, early action taken by multiple arms of the Government, and the truly outstanding efforts of our health personnel. Doctors, Nurses, Public Health Inspectors, Technicians and numerous other staff in our hospitals, laboratories, quarantine centres, and at the community level ably supported by our Armed Forces dedicated themselves to stop the spread of this disease.

At the outset of my address, I take this opportunity to commend, pay tribute to, and express my sincere gratitude to all healthcare professionals and others who contributed to Sri Lanka’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The outstanding success Sri Lanka achieved in this endeavour came at a time when even some of the most developed countries in the world were unable to respond adequately to the pandemic. Due to a variety of factors, ranging from a delayed response by their Governments, to the lack of universal health insurance, the unpreparedness of their healthcare institutions, the lack of sufficient testing, to the inadequacy of their management systems, the spread of the virus could not be contained in several developed nations.

In many countries, patients who were infected with this virus were turned away from hospitals and left to fend for themselves or were not treated with adequate care. This resulted in community transmission of the disease, ultimately resulting in soaring rates of infection and death in these countries.

In this context, while I express my profound sympathy for the plight of those nations that have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am also proud to say that Sri Lanka, despite still being a developing country, managed to face this situation very successfully because of our free healthcare system. Not even a single patient suspected of being infected with COVID-19 was turned away from our healthcare system.

Each and every patient was treated at our Government hospitals, at Government’s expense, and 2888 out of 3110 confirmed cases have been successfully cured to date, with only 12 fatalities thus far.

The robust testing mechanisms we were able to set up in a short time supported these efforts by identifying asymptomatic patients and ensuring their isolation and proper care. We have also repatriated thousands of our citizens from countries where the virus is spreading rapidly.

Returnees have been housed at quarantine centres around the island, where they are looked after to a very high standard by our Armed Forces personnel. Most of these centres are managed entirely at the expense of the Government. These are all remarkable achievements by any yardstick.

These achievements are why Sri Lanka’s success in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has been justly commended by international institutions including the World Health Organization and UNICEF, as well as many foreign nations, international commentators and individuals.

The effectiveness of Sri Lanka’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic signifies the strength of our public healthcare system. In this context, I must confess that I find it puzzling as to why so many of our citizens seek healthcare externally. On many occasions, even grants provided through the President’s Fund and other welfare schemes in the Government are used to cover hospitalization in private hospitals.

While there is certainly a need to further strengthen the state healthcare system, I believe it is time that we encourage greater use of the facilities we have within this system. Some innovative thinking towards absorbing these state generated funds into the public healthcare system will ultimately benefit the citizens.

Another important lesson emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic has been the importance of maintaining a centralized healthcare system. Although the administration of most of Sri Lanka’s state-run hospitals are vested with the Provincial Councils, fortunately there were enough hospitals nationwide under the management of the Health Ministry that could be utilized without difficulty during the height of the pandemic. Had we been in a situation where healthcare was a subject completely devolved to the Provincial Councils, the efficacy of Sri Lanka’s response to the pandemic may have been quite different.

Our recent experience reinforces the importance of maintaining responsibility for certain functions with the central Government. Education is another vital area of public life that can be similarly described.

Moving forward, it is important for us as a nation to truly understand the challenges and opportunities that face us, and to design our response to them appropriately. The mandate given to the Government by the people at the Parliamentary Elections just a month ago makes it very clear that the Sri Lankan public is hungry for development and tired of excuses.

One of the core pillars of development is the maintenance of a healthy population. Achieving certain public health goals remains a core responsibility of the Government. I am determined to work towards creating a healthy nation during my tenure as President of this country.

My recent visits to every corner of Sri Lanka, exposed me in-depth to many real issues that our fellow citizens face. These grassroots level issues are wide ranging, from lack of drinking water to lack of education to lack of proper healthcare facilities.

There are many rural areas of the country where people have to travel long distances in order to consult with doctors for their various ailments. Unfortunately, the population density in these areas could be too low to justify the building of hospitals or other healthcare infrastructure that can adequately cater to the needs of these people, particularly considering Sri Lanka’s present economic position. However, there may be simpler solutions to these problems that can be adopted with a more proactive, practical mindset.

One of the more successful healthcare initiatives in the history of Sri Lanka—and another that has been commended internationally—is the Public Health Midwife programme. These hard-working healthcare service providers have delivered community level maternal and child healthcare throughout Sri Lanka for decades.

They have been the front-line health workers delivering care and advice to women and children at the household level in many rural communities.

Similarly, it may now be opportune for us to introduce a new concept, that of the Public Health Nurse who could provide basic healthcare services to those in very rural communities that lack access to other healthcare infrastructure. Adequately trained and qualified nurses may be able to help diagnose and treat simple ailments, and give individuals requiring higher level care, the advice required to seek medical attention.

They could perhaps even refer patients to doctors in the region as and when required. This sort of initiative may contribute significantly to improving access to healthcare within rural communities, and thereby contribute towards better healthcare in the nation at large.

Parallel to this initiative, we could also revive the many rural dispensaries and through them provide basic and simple solutions to citizens’ health issues. This community level health infrastructure would immensely contribute towards creating a healthy nation.

At this point, I would, in particular, like to address those of you who are young doctors who have recently graduated from our universities and have qualified as Medical Interns and are taking part in the Good Intern Programme.

The medical profession is one of the noblest callings that one can aspire to. Even as young doctors, you are responsible for the lives of other people. Sometimes, your diagnosis of a patient’s illness could be the decisive factor in his or her life. The decisions you make could be the difference between one’s life and death. This is certainly not a responsibility that can be taken lightly.

If anything, the difficulties associated with reaching your status—from the outstanding exam results you must produce to the many years of education and training that you must undergo before qualifying for your MBBS—signal how serious your role is, in society, and what a tremendous honour it is to be a provider of healthcare.

In this context, I wish to congratulate all of you on your having been included for the Good Intern Programme, which aims to improve the service provision of the health sector by increasing the understanding young doctors have of good medical practice and the grave responsibility towards their fellow beings.

In the words of the Buddha: “Arōgyā paramā lābhā”—health is the ultimate profit. By dedicating yourself to the highest standards of healthcare provision that can be achieved, you will be in a position to contribute immensely to the well-being of your fellow men and women.

In closing, I take this opportunity to wish each one of you every success for the future, and hope that you will contribute your utmost to Sri Lanka as outstanding young healthcare professionals.

Thank you.