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Bring down price of medicines by using the Senaka Bibile Policy

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In the present context of rising prices of essentials, after food, the people are most hit by the high prices of medicines. With the fact that there is a severe shortage of medicines in the Government hospitals, patients are compelled to buy them from private pharmacies.

Though a few of them sell medicines at a reasonable price keeping an acceptable profit margin, unfortunately, a majority fleece the patients. Many poor patients can afford to buy only a portion of the prescribed medicine or not at all, and fail to recover from their illness.

Some patients with chronic illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure suffer due to partial control of their illness, with long term consequences, which can also be life threatening.

This situation can be rectified if we return to the Senaka Bibile Medicinal Drug Policy that was in operation during the 1970 SLFP/LSSP/CP Coalition Government period. During that period, every Government hospital had practically every required medicine for every illness in adequate amounts to be given to patients free of charge. These were available in adequate amounts and the quality was assured. There were hardly any rejections.

The prices in the private pharmacies too were low and the quality good, so that the private health sector too benefited. This was because Senaka Bibile established the State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) which purchased the entire requirement of both state and private sectors. Globally tenders were called for the bulk purchase of the entire requirement. He ensured that the quality was good by obtaining certificates of good manufacturing practice and by periodic checks for quality control, both internally and externally.

In calling for tenders, he only used the generic term (the proper scientific name) of each medicine. By avoiding the company trade names, all the bulk producers of expensive brands had to compete with all producers of the much cheaper generics of good quality. Most Brand producers were used to buying generics and after applying their brand name to jack up their prices considerably. The patients were fooled by intensive advertising of the particular brand, and claiming that it ensured quality. The doctors were given all sorts of perks and even big bribes to ensure that the doctor prescribe that particular drug. The pharmacists were also bribed to give that brand drug when the prescription carried only the generic name. By making the SPC the sole importer for the entire country requirement Prof. Senaka Bibile ensured that the price to the consumer remained as low as possible, specially because the same medicines were being given free in the Government sector. To reach the public, he not only opened many SPC sales outlets in the bigger cities, but he also promoted outsourcing to private pharmacies.

His policy enabled the consumer through the intervention of the government to get low price good quality medicine. By ensuring that the government hospitals had all the medicines for practically every disease free of charge, the poor greatly benefited. The WHO and UNCTAD acclaimed him for his wonderful policy.

The 35th World Health Assembly in Geneva in May 1982 made special mention of his achievement. They then proceeded to recommend the adoption of this policy by all Third World countries. It was when he went to Guyana at the request of UNCTAD to train people there on his method that his premature death at the age of 57 years took place under mysterious circumstances.

This was a great loss not only to the poor people of Sri Lanka but also to the poor people of the world. The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) expected the State Pharmaceutical Corporation to mark the occasion by having the Annual Senaka Bibile Memorial Lecture. I am sorry to learn that this is not being held. The lack of time prevented the LSSP from having a commemorative meeting. I have to be content with sending this short article to the newspapers to mark the occasion.

I think it is my duty to mention that Prof. Bibile was born in Bibile on February 13, 1920. He had his secondary education at Trinity College Kandy and after completing his degree he received higher education in the University of Edinburgh, UK, specializing in Pharmacology. On his return to Sri Lanka he set up the first Department of Pharmacology at the University of Ceylon, Colombo. He was an excellent teacher and gave the students a clear understanding of the subject without the help of any notes.

With the establishment of the University at Peradeniya, he set up the Pharmacology Department. In addition, he developed a separate Education Unit for the academic staff to improve their teaching abilities. This was done when he became the first Dean of the Faculty of Medicine in Peradeniya.

He was a convinced socialist and joined the Lanka Sama Samaja Party at a very early age. He was an admirer of Dr. N. M. Perera and Dr. Colvin R. de Silva among other leaders of the LSSP. As students we visited his house once a week, where he explained the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and other theoreticians in very clear and simple language. His ability as a teacher was a great help in acquiring this knowledge. In a way, we are indebted to him both for our knowledge of Medical Pharmacology as well as Marxism.

I had the good fortune to develop a lasting friendship with him. I still recall having dinner at his flat in Borella along with our wives Kamini and Leela the night before he left for Guyana. He mentioned that because of his policy which had greatly reduced the profits of the pharmaceutical drug industry that his life may be in in danger. He had received a warning not to go to Guyana.

He laughed this off and said that nothing would deter him from going ahead with spreading his ideas and helping the poor people in third world countries to benefit from his policy.

It was one of the saddest days of my life when I and Kamini went to Katunayake airport to receive Leela when she returned from Guyana with his ashes.

– Prof. Tissa Vitarana



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Domestic debt restructuring will cripple EPF, ETF – JVP

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By Sirimatha Rathnasekera

The Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) and Employees’ Trust Fund (ETF) will lose about 600 billion rupees during the proposed domestic debt structuring, Co-Convener of the JVP affiliated National Trade Union Centre (NTUC) Wasantha Samarasinghe claimed.

Samarasinghe is of the opinion that the government is planning not to pay 20 to 25 percent of the loans it has taken from domestic sources. Successive governments have borrowed significantly from the EPF and ETF, he said.

Samarasinghe said that due to the depreciation of the rupee, the real value of EPF and ETF funds had decreased by half. “In such a context, can these institutions take a 20 percent haircut? This might be a big problem to the workers,” he said.

The NTUC Co-Convener said that a number of domestic banks, too, had lent to the government and domestic debt restructuring might lead to a collapse in the banking system.

However, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe says that they are confident of reaching debt sustainability without re-structuring domestic debt, which would lead to problems in the banking sector.

“There have been concerns among domestic bond investors about rupee debt/internal debt to be restructured following comments made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to the effect that financial advisors were looking at domestic debt. However, there has been no request to restructure domestic debt. We are confident that we can make debt sustainable without restructuring domestic debt,” Dr. Weerasinghe told the media at the CBSL’s 6th Review of the Monetary Policy stance for this year, at the CBSL head office auditorium, in Colombo, on Thursday.

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Powerful CEBEU says yes to restructuring but on its terms

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Sri Lanka will experience periodic power cuts until 2027 if the government did not take steps to increase electricity production, the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) said yesterday.Due to electricity shortages, the Norochcholai Power Plant had been operational non-stop, sometimes even without scheduled maintenance, CEBEU President, Saumya Kumarawadu said.

“A generator is down. We will get it back online within 14 days. We had started maintenance on another plant in June and it was to be back online in September. But it has been delayed till November,” he said.

Kumarawadu said there would be 10-hour power cuts without Norochcholai. However, the power cuts could be reduced in two weeks when the generator was restored, he said.

He added that while they support restructuring of the CEB, they oppose de-bundling and selling the CEB to various private actors.

“Power cuts might have to go on till 2026 or 2027 unless new plants come up. A proposal to build an LNG power plant is still languishing in the Cabinet,” he said.

The CEBEU President also said that the electricity tariff was last increased in 2012. In 2014, the tariff was reduced. Without increasing electricity tariffs, the CEB will have to get increasing amounts of money from the treasury.

“The government should have increased the tariff at regular intervals. We haven’t increased in a decade and suddenly we have increased by a large amount.That’s why it has come as a shock to people,” he said.

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SJB opposes blanket privatisations

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… questions logic of selling cash cows like Telecom and Insurance

The SJB was opposed to the privatisation of profit-making government entities, Chief Opposition Whip, MP Lakshman Kiriella, said yesterday, in Colombo.Kiriella said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe had told The Economist magazine that they are thinking of privatising Sri Lanka Telecom and Sri Lanka Insurance.

“These are two institutions that make a profit. What is the point in privatising these?” he asked.

MP Kiriella said that they are not opposed to privatizing SriLankan Airlines, which has been making losses for years.

“We can talk about these things in Parliament. Even when we privatize loss making entities we have to take a number of things into consideration. What will happen to the workers? How will we compensate them? How will we re-skill them? We have to talk about these things openly before doing anything,” he said.

The Chief Opposition Whip said that one of the main reasons why people oppose privatization is because everything is done in secrecy.

“People wonder why things are hidden from them. We need to be open and transparent when we restructure,” he said.

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