Sri Lanka’s cancer patients struggle amid economic chaos | Health

Priyantha Kumarasinghe starts her day in the small Sri Lankan town of Maharagama with a breakfast of two cookies and a small cup of tea, followed by a round of cancer medicine.

The 32-year-old vegetable farmer was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2021 and began receiving treatment earlier this year, just as Sri Lanka’s economy was in freefall.

Amid severe fuel shortages and weeks of uncertainty, Kumarasinghe said he was unable to travel the 155 kilometers (96 miles) between his home and Sri Lanka’s main cancer hospital on the outskirts of the country’s largest city. , Colombo, for treatment.

Kumarasinghe is among hundreds of cancer patients treated by Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.

A representative of Sri Lanka’s largest doctors’ association said hospitals across the country had been struggling to cope with a severe shortage of medicines, which had worsened over the past eight months.

“All hospitals are experiencing shortages. Even the sourcing of basic things like paracetamol, vitamin C and saline for outpatient services is difficult, said Vasan Ratnasingam, spokesman for the Government Association of Health Officers.

Ratnasingam said specialist facilities such as cancer hospitals and eye hospitals are campaigning for donations.

Battered by the loss of tourism and remittances revenue due to the pandemic, coupled with ill-timed tax cuts, Sri Lanka fell into crisis in early 2022 after its foreign exchange reserves dried up, leaving the country short of money. dollars to pay for fuel imports. food, cooking gas and medicine.

For months, the country of 22 million people has faced hours-long power outages and severe fuel shortages.

Economic hardship has sparked protests, which in July led to the removal of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

A depreciating currency and record inflation have pushed middle-class families like the Kumarasinghe to the brink as they struggle to meet the higher cost of living.

For decades, the people of Sri Lanka have benefited from a global public health care system that subsidizes treatment, including drugs for serious illnesses.

But services have been hampered by a dollar shortage, which has limited drug imports and limited public funds available to hospitals to provide care.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has pledged to restore economic stability but warned that reforms will be difficult as the country tries to raise taxes to arrange public finances and work with creditors, including India , Japan and China, for debt restructuring.

In September, the country signed a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a $2.9 billion bailout but must put its massive debt burden on a sustainable path before disbursement can begin.

Economic difficulties still weigh heavily on many people.

Sathiyaraj Silaksana, 27, was visiting her 5-year-old son, S Saksan, who has leukemia, and traveled 350km (217 miles) with her husband to feed him.

Silaksana, who is pregnant with her second child, said: “Due to the current crisis in Sri Lanka, we are facing serious transport and food problems.

“I have no choice but to pay for my son’s needs. My husband is a construction worker. To pay all these costs, we took up our jewelry.”

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