By Bhagya Kodituwakku –
Being a Medical Doctor who was born and bred in Sri Lanka, I am truly disappointed of the news that our Minister of Health, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne flew to Singapore for a medical check up. According to recent reports, Dr. Senaratne visited Lanka Hospitals last week, where he found a minor ailment. Later in the same day, his family flew to Singapore to seek a second-opinion and further medical treatment from Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore.
This report is alarming on many levels, as it fundamentally questions the quality of the health care system of our nation, as well as the professional integrity of the Minister.
Photo – Rajitha at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore
The mission statement of the Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine clearly stipulates that its main objective is to improving health status and reducing inequalities. Further, at the 68th World Health Assembly in May 2015, the Minister proudly boasted the country’s free health service since 1930s, adding that the health system has developed on a platform of efficient and effective primary healthcare, where equity is a central consideration.
We Sri Lankans must feel threatened or insecure, that the head of the healthcare services in our very own country feels the need to seek medical attention elsewhere even after receiving medical treatment from one of the top private hospitals in the country. This is nothing but an insult to the Sri Lankan doctors and the healthcare system. It is a known fact that his wife was the former Deputy Director of the National Hospital Colombo and currently the Director General of the National Non-Communicable Disease Bureau. Yet, local doctors are not good enough for further medical check-ups and second opinion. This demonstrates his lack of faith in the quality of medical standards in Sri Lanka, and undermines his professional ethics. This equivalent to Steve Jobs using a Nokia phone instead of an Apple iPhone, or the CEO of Toyota driving a Mercedes-Benz.
What this news also highlights is that after all, ‘healthcare equity’ is a mere façade. Of the 21 million Sri Lankans, how many would have the luxury to go abroad for further medical treatment? As an individual serving the interests of the nation and the common people, it is ironic that he is entitled to such level of luxury- and at who’s expense begs a separate question altogether.
There seems to be no question of ‘yahapalanaya’ (good governance) when it comes to this matter, where even the notorious Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) remains surprisingly quiet. While they are too busy defying against the private medical institution in Malabe, this issue does not seem to warrant any action from them either.
Is this the sort of message we want to give to our future doctors and also to the world? Leaders should lead by example, not merely by empty words. This is not to say that our healthcare system is without faults. Having said that, let us all stand up against this hypocrisy to restore the respect that our medical system and its highly qualified staff deserve.