With the ruling SLFP drawing up its manifesto for the Presidential election despite controversy, confusion and conflicts over the polls date and strategic alliances, health action groups are calling upon the party to include a National Medicinal Drugs Policy also in its manifesto. The People`s Movement for the Rights of Patients and the 14,000-strong Government Medical Officers` Association are among the groups campaigning strongly for the government to introduce legislation as promised and implement the National Medicinal Drugs Policy for the benefit of millions of people.

On TV Lanka last Sunday, two doctors of the GMOA and a representative of the Medical College Students Involved in Rational Health Action called on Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva to keep his promise that legislation for the NMDP would be introduced before the WHO regional summit next month. Among other life-saving and life-giving positives, the National Medicinal Drugs Policy will enable every Sri Lankan to cut down drug expenses significantly and get quality drugs at affordable prices while the country will save billions of rupees in precious foreign exchange. As mentioned before, Sri Lanka, at present, has a dubious world record of 9,000 registered medicinal drugs, with no one really sure as to how many are imported, prescribed and sold. It is generally believed that about 6,000 are imported, hundreds of them being non-essential, unnecessary, highly expensive and some even dangerous. If the NMDP is implemented and Professor Senaka Bibile`s hallowed essential medicinal concept is practiced, Sri Lanka could cut down the number of drugs imported, prescribed and sold to about 350 varieties, with about five formulations of each. When that is done, and hopefully soon, the country could save foreign exchange to the value of about five billion rupees a year and much more financial resources could be channelled to important areas such as preventive health services, health education and empowerment of the people.

Besides those and many other benefits, another important factor in the National Medicinal Drugs Policy and its essential medicinal concept would be the vast improvement and sustenance of quality control of drugs. At present, quality control is difficult, if not impossible, because the Drug Regulatory Authority does not have the human or financial resources to sustain quality control of thousands of varieties. When the essential medicinal concept is implemented and the number of drugs is restricted to about 350, the new Independent Drug Regulatory Authority, as provided for in the NMDP, would be able to effectively ensure quality and carry out post marketing surveillance.

Science and Technology Minister Tissa Vitharana, on August 6, assured the People`s Movement for the Rights of Patients that he and his party, the LSSP, would actively work for the introduction of legislation and effective implementation of the NMDP. Constitutional Affairs Minister D.E.W. Gunasekera has also assured them that he and his Communist party were also solidly behind the NMDP. The two PA-coalition partners have praised Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva for initiating four days of consultations among stake-holders to draft the National Medicinal Drugs Policy. Professor Vitharana, Mr. Gunasekera, the PMRP, the GMOA and others have expressed confidence that the Minister and the Health Ministry would, this month, present the legislation for the NMDP. The Health Minister and others drawing up the Presidential election manifesto need to be reminded that if the vital economic factor of poverty eradication is to be tackled at the roots, it has to begin with the provision of primary healthcare and proper nutrition for all. The National Medicinal Drugs Policy is nothing less than a vital step in that direction, to be followed by a National Health Policy, a National Food Policy including clear-cut guidelines on GM foods and constitutional amendments for the declaration of health as a fundamental right.

For decades, health for all was largely a political slogan or rhetoric. Now the Health Minister has got a clear draft to turn it into a reality and millions of Sri Lankans would be thrown into grave danger if he lets them down because of pressure from vested interests like the pharmaceutical giants who often wear medical cloaks to achieve their agendas.

(C) 2000-2005

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