Sri Lanka parliament debates the health minister’s fate over reports of lack of drugs, hospital care


COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan lawmakers began a debate on the fate of country’s health minister on Wednesday, seeking to remove him over his alleged failure to secure enough essential drugs and laboratory equipment that some say resulted in preventable deaths in hospitals.

Sri Lanka provides free health service through state-run hospitals but they have suffered from a shortage of medicines and health workers, especially doctors, as a result of an economic crisis after the government suspended repayment of foreign loans.

Opposition lawmakers said in a no-confidence motion that a failure by Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella to fulfil his responsibilities has ruined the health sector and that “people have to pay the price of his irresponsible conduct with their lives,.”

Rambukwella has previously rejected the allegations against him.

Several patients have died or suffered impairments including blindness during treatment at state-run hospitals in recent months under circumstances that are being investigated by the Health Ministry. Their relatives, trade unions, activists and opposition lawmakers alleged that low-quality drugs had led to poor patient care.

A vote on the motion in the 225-member house will be taken on Friday.

Sri Lanka’s financial troubles have been triggered by a shortage of foreign currency, excessive borrowing by the government, and efforts by the central bank to stabilize the Sri Lankan rupee with scarce foreign reserves.

Sri Lanka’s total debt has exceeded $83 billion, of which $41.5 billion is foreign. Sri Lanka has secured a $3 billion bailout package from the International Monetary Fund and is taking steps to restructure its domestic and foreign debts.

The economic crunch has caused severe shortages of food, medicine, fuel, cooking gas and electricity last year, which led to massive street protests that forced then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and resign.

Amid the crisis, thousands of Sri Lanka are leaving the country for better paying jobs abroad. They include about 1,500 doctors who have left over the last year, according to a union.

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