Colombo Telegraph

Progress – Towards What? For Whom?

By Sarath De Alwis

Sarath de Alwis

People are tired of what they have gone through – they seek genuine, real time change. That’s why they elected us to power – to make that anticipated change a reality. They believe that we can make changes for the better and through social economic modifications, we can make their lives better.” – Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe – 5th November 2015

Ninety one years earlier in 1924 , Rabindranath Tagore in a lecture on civilization and progress told his audience “We have for over a century been dragged by the prosperous West behind its chariot, choked by the dust, deafened by the noise, humbled by our own helplessness, and overwhelmed by the speed. We agreed to acknowledge that this chariot-drive was progress, and the progress was civilisation. If we ever ventured to ask, ‘progress towards what, and progress for whom’, it was considered to be peculiarly and ridiculously oriental to entertain such ideas about the absoluteness of progress. Of late a voice has come to us to take count not only of the scientific perfection of the chariot but the depth of the ditches lying on its path.” That was in 1924.

Can we say today that a new voice came to us on 8th January 2015? So we thought. So we continue to think. So we continue to hope. Please read my story.

This happened on Monday 16th November, nine months after the success of the National Movement for a Just Society made a former Minister of Health our new President. This story is about health care provided by the state.

It was the prescriptions processing counter of the busiest Pharmacy located in the vicinity of the Colombo’s general hospital around Lipton’s circus.

She was past seventy. Her wrinkled face mirrored her suffering. She was confused. She was broken. She was resolutely lonely in the maddening confusion where everyone was anxious to finish their business. That was forgivable. No one visits a pharmacy on a Monday around noon unless it was unavoidable.

There she was holding a cellophane bag full of papers, thrusting a tiny piece of paper at the girl behind the counter. The young Pharmacy staffer was kind, patient but firm. “No you cannot just get three strips. You have to get a pack of twenty five. May be when you go back to the hospital there will be others who may want it. So you can sell them the other pieces.”

That was too much for the old lady. Doleful eyes tearing she retreated to a seat provided by the management for the relief of their customers. This country has caring people. The lady who was ahead of me told the girl “I like to, help her. How much is it?” “Rupees One thousand two hundred” she was told.

Oh! She whispered and retreated averting eye contact with yours truly the busy body always eager to mind other people’s business for the grand design of “Yahapalanyaya.”

Meanwhile on the mobile phone I had given my better half the gist of the occurrence at Lipton Circus and received a patronizing prognosis. “Oya boru karayo.” Not content with her settled dosage of wisdom she added “Oya wage minissunta thamai ohoma aya hamba wenne”

What she implied was that I was a gullible simpleton. Now that rankled. The morning reviews of newspaper headlines on television these days provide enough space to indict me for my blind enthusiasm for the promised “yahapalanaya.” I am beginning to find the logic of her assertions increasingly difficult to counter.

I decided to exercise my retarded intelligence. I asked the girl at the Pharmacy why she could not give the old woman the three pieces she demanded. With the composure of a Mother Theresa the young lady explained that they could not do it as they came in packs of 25. I probed more. Then why do they come here? Because the Hospital does not explain. They just tell them to bring it. Does it happen often? Oh yes. Many come here to fetch drugs and such things which the hospital wants the people to buy from outside.

Already I had heard several customers telling those behind the counter, that they wanted only a week’s supply of drugs instead of the recommended fortnight or thirty days. We still live in Cabral country in the middle income league.

That settled the matter for me. I recalled the misfortune in Australia suffered by the garrulous patriot and pre January 8th cabinet spokesmen Mr. Keheliya Rambukwella and his good fortune with his hospital bills.

He went for a puff on the balcony of a hospital room where his offspring was recuperating. He then took a kangaroo leap down under, broke a leg and ended up in the same hospital. Let us not bother how and why.

The “yahapalanaya” administration of President Sirisena has not responded to the query of parliamentarian Anura Kumara Dissanayake as to how the Aussie Hospital Charges were paid.

As I voted for the Swan, I was morally bound to get the forlorn woman the pack of 25 of whatever she wanted. I told the pharmacy assistant that I would pay for it. The cashiers receipt slip reads ‘CLEVER CHECK STRIPS 4279 925) Rs. 1282.00

On evening news I listened to the President addressing a gathering at Kegalle on the menace of drugs, tobacco and alcohol. In his reassuringly sonorous voice he told his listeners that nearly forty thousand deaths per annum were caused by substance abuse. He remains a concerned president. The Minster of Health should join the Avant grade in making health care truly accessible to those who seek it including drugs and tests at our state hospitals.

GDP does not measure progress of a nation. It measures corporate progress. Not human progress. GDP growth does not tell us how we decide our priorities. It does not tell us how the voice less, rear and educate their children. It does not tell us how the voice less take care of the sick and the infirm.

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