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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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Majority of 300 luxury vehicles to be released

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… some shipped in without opening LCs, EU wants restrictions abolished

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The majority of the luxury vehicles imported by special permit holders in contravention of the import ban imposed by the government in view of precarious economic situation caused by corona first wave are likely to be released subject to penalties.

Well informed sources said that those vehicles shipped in without even opening LCs would be released. Among the violators were many government servants.

Sources said that vehicles brought in without opening LCs were likely to be confiscated.

“We have categorised over 300 vehicles, including BMWs, Mercedes-Benz and Audis into two groups. Customs are now in the process of evaluating individual cases,” a high ranking state official said.

The government announced a ban on vehicle imports to arrest the depletion of foreign reserves. Sources acknowledged that at the time the vehicles

arrived in Sri Lanka the second corona wave hadn’t erupted. The situation was far worse now and further deteriorating, they said, adding that the Customs were being inundated with requests for releasing vehicles on sympathetic grounds.

Controversy surrounds the failure on the part of the government to strictly implement the import ban in view of the sharp drop in state revenue due to the pandemic.

Recently, the EU demanded that Sri Lanka immediately lift import ban or face the consequences. The EU issued the warning in talks with government representatives. Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena explained the circumstances that compelled the government to impose import restrictions. The EU sought an explanation as to when the ban would be lifted. The Foreign Ministry quoted Foreign Minister Gunawardena as having explained to the EU the challenges Sri Lanka economy was facing amidst the dwindling foreign currency reserve situation due to the significant reduction in remittances and tourism revenue induced by the COVID-19 global pandemic. The minister said that the import restrictions were being reviewed.

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Nearly 74,000 persons under home quarantine

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Close to 74,000 people belonging to 27,974 families had been placed under home quarantine, Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said on Wednesday (25).

He said that the number of cases from the Minuwangoda and Peliyagoda clusters had increased to 17,436 with 458 persons had tested positive for the virus on Tuesday.

Two wards of the Kethumathi Maternity Hospital, Panadura were temporarily closed on Wednesday after two pregnant women admitted there tested COVID-19 positive.

The two women are from Atalugama, which has been declared an isolated area. During the last few days close to half of the COVID-19 patients detected in Colombo District are from Atalugama.

The two women have been sent to Neville Fernando Hospital, Malabe. The patients and staff in Wards 3 and 4 at the Kethumathi Maternity Hospital are now under quarantine. Their family members too have been asked to undergone self-quarantine.

The Police had arrested 61 persons who had violated quarantine laws within the 24 hours that ended at 8 am yesterday, Police spokesman, DIG Ajith Rohana said, adding that they had been arrested for not wearing masks or for not maintaining physical distancing. With those altogether 688 persons had been arrested for violating quarantine laws from October 30, he said.

Commissioner General of Prisons Thushara Upuldeniya said that apart from Welikada, the spread of COVID-19 had been controlled at other prisons. COVID-19 cases had been reported from six prisons, he added.

“We are conducting PCR tests and hope that the situation in Welikada too would be brought under control. Twenty four new cases were detected from prisons on November 24 and from October 04, we have identified 708 cases within the prison system.”

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Severity of impact of second wave on economy could be far worse than anticipated – CBSL

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By Shyam Nuwan Ganewatte

The impact of the second wave of COVID-19 could be severer on the economic growth than previously anticipated, Director of Economic Research at the Central Bank Dr. Chandranath Amarasekara said yesterday (26).

Dr. Amarasekera said so responding to a query by The Island at a CBSL media briefing. The top official said that an assessment couldn’t be made yet as the second wave was continuing.

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