Cabinet Spokesman and Health Minister, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne says, with the minimum standard being implemented, and it being drafted by the Medical Council, the GMOA is going on strike asking to abolish the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM). They know there is a solution coming, so they want to sabotage it.
In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the Minister said, earlier the GMOA said they are for private education and they only want to improve the standard of SAITM. Dr. Senaratne said, both the GMOA and the JVP have their political perspectives. Unlike the JVP, the GMOA never wanted to strike.
They drew charts and showed during former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s time, why you should not strike. They said you can win demands without resorting to strikes. This is the very same GMOA who now wants to strike, for every minor issue.
Q: Could you substantiate the allegation that the GMOA, together with some other trade unions are trying to topple the Government?
A. It is only the GMOA, there are no other trade unions, other than the few JVPers. But, most of the JVP trade unions are mere name boards. So there isn’t much effect.
Though the GMOA says there are 181 other trade unions with them, no other trade union struck work. They all worked that day.
Most of the GMOA members also didn’t strike, so it didn’t affect hospital service on the day of the strike. Only the OPDs were affected, not the wards, theaters or ICUs.
All of them were engaged in their duties. Previously, when the JVP staged a strike, it had some effect on the Karapitiya and the Badulla hospitals. We observed this time that the staff in these hospitals worked and the strike had no effect at all.
The people and even hospital workers know how much this Government and I, have done to improve the health services. Both, the GMOA and the JVP have their political perspectives.
Unlike the JVP, the GMOA never wanted to strike, before. They drew charts and showed during former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s time, why you should not strike.
They said, you can win demands without resorting to strikes. It is the very same GMOA that now wants to strike for every minor issue.
Last time, they struck work without knowing the proper taxation on their salaries.
They said they were given advice by some tax officer and didn’t listen to the Finance Ministry Secretary who has a doctorate on Economics.
When they met the Finance Ministry Secretary, it was proved that it was not so. By then they had struck work for a day. It is the very same GMOA now resorting to strikes.
Q: What is the Government’s solution to SAITM when there is an all out crusade against it?
A. There is no all out crusade because it is only the university clan. That is all. In the country as a whole there is no such thing. We have given four solutions, which we have announced to the nation. Most people say, it is very reasonable. We also contacted all media groups and they too said it is good and you can’t go beyond that. We contacted other professional associations, who also commended it as a reasonable solution.
Q: Does the GMOA insist that private medical education should not be permitted at all, or is it that they don’t want only SAITM?
A. No. Earlier they said they are for private education and they only want to improve the standard of SAITM. So we gave a solution based on that. Now they say, since there is a solution, that we should abolish SAITM. At first they never asked to abolish SAITM. They said they would strike unless we give minimum standard to SAITM.
With the minimum standard being implemented and drafted by the Medical Council, the GMOA is going on strike asking to abolish SAITM. They know, there is a solution now, and they want to sabotage it.
Q: What is the logic on the part of GMOA’s opposition to SAITM, while they are engaging in private practice, and show no opposition to private hospitals being opened either?
A. They are for Montessori education and they send their children to the Montessori which is fee levying. They also have no objection to private tuition which is in fact private education.
Even doing private practice and channelling in private hospitals are no problems for them. They are only worried about the private medical education, nothing else, even though it is a concept accepted in every part of the world.
The world has changed so much now, and we too have to change according to the international community, only then can we march forward. They don’t understand that because they have a political motive. This is entirely a political game. They were never opposed to the medical faculty of the KDU because that was established by the former Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
They were scared of him. He threatened Dr. Padeniya and the next day he agreed to it. There were only two chapters to recommend the degree. Here, they have written books on SAITM. That is why it is stated in the judgement that there is a double standard in recognising the KDU and SAITM. They recognised KDU without a hospital. But here they say, there is a hospital but not enough patients.
Q: Several communicable diseases such as Dengue, A1 H1 etc have posed a serious threat to the community, today. Do you have a special program to arrest this trend?
A. Sri Lanka is one of the best countries to control communicable diseases. We have got the certificate for combatting malaria. There is no more filaria and we have also got the WHO certificate.
We are very much in control of other diseases like, measles and rubella. In a few years, we will get the certificate for eradicating dengue.
The control of most communicable diseases are improving so that they are reducing. We would be getting the certificate for all that soon. There are only two problems. One is HIV and the other, Dengue. Though there is a slow increase in HIV, it is the lowest in the region. There was an increase in dengue in 2016, but it showed a decrease in 2015, and again rose its head in 2016 due to the floods, which still persists. I had a meeting on Wednesday (April 12) on how to control dengue, especially with regard to its prevention and treatment.
We decided to summon the Education Ministry, the Provincial Councils and the Local Government Ministry on April 24 to jointly spearhead a campaign to eradicate dengue. Dengue cannot be controlled only by the Health Ministry.
The community has to support to make it a success. Even developed countries like Malaysia has over 100,000 dengue cases per year. Even Singapore which is one of the cleanest nations in the world has about 30,000 dengue cases per year. It shows that it is difficult to control dengue without the participation of the community.
Q: Parliamentary business often has to be adjourned or continued under duress due to filibustering by Opposition MPs. Are there any reasons for them to do so?
A. That shows their political bankruptcy. Parliament is not Lipton Circle. What is done at Lipton Circle cannot be done in Parliament. Parliament is a place to air their grievances and criticise and highlight the weaknesses of the Government, if they wish to. By avoiding that and resorting to do what they do at Lipton Circle, shows they are bankrupt and have no vision. They are merely anti-government and nothing else.
Q: Civil society organisations and prominent people are disappointed that the National Unity Government has failed to bring those politicians or officials who plundered the Government coffers, to book, so far. Why is the delay?
A. There is a delay, that’s right. But we are closely monitoring it. Because we have to go through the legal process. Bringing financial frauds to light is very difficult and you have to do it stage by stage. But all the culprits will be brought before the judiciary very soon.
Q: Many organisations and Opposition politicians charge that the country’s economy is in the doldrums with declining exports and balance of trade difficulties. Would you explain?
A. There are difficulties because we have to pay the huge loans taken by the previous Government to put up sophisticated infrastructure such as airports, harbours and highways. It is only now that the repayment has been commenced.
Therefore, there will be a problem on balance of payments. Anyway, we are improving our investment sector and are helped by the international community. With all that, somehow we will repay our loans and debts and bring the economy into a more stable position.
Q: Reduction of drug prices is a big relief to the poor. Would you expect to take some more progressive steps to help the people?
A. We have reduced the prices of 48 essential drugs. After that, we have drastically reduced the prices of cataract lenses. Now we are working to reduce the prices of stents.
Then we will go back to other expensive drugs such as cancer drugs and regulate them. Earlier, a cancer patient was given Rs. 1.5 million for treatments. Now it has no limit and we have extended that. So the Government has spent over Rs.12 to 13 million to provide drugs to some cancer patients. It shows they are still living.
We provide stents free of charge, each costing Rs.75,000 to 350,000. If a patient has to fix three stents, it costs over Rs. One million. But he doesn’t have to spend Rs. One million as the stents are now provided by the Government free of charge. Now all the blood tests are done in Government hospitals free of charge. All required drugs are available in state hospitals without any shortage. In order to control the non-communicable diseases, we have taken a decision against smoking.
We have implemented 80 percent pictorial warnings and imposed 90 percent tax on cigarettes which is the highest in the world. As a result, smoking has come down by 47 percent. The tobacco and multinational drug companies have taken this as a war waged against them. They too will react and that is their nature. Drug and tobacco companies always react against politicians who take action against them.
They use various ways for this purpose. Even they can buy these doctor’s unions and use them against me. So that they will speak what these multinational companies want. That’s why doctor’s unions are against the Government and the Minister. We know they are being looked after by the drug and tobacco companies.
Q: Frequent public protests in the country could be a disincentive to foreign investments. Your comments?
A. We have to control this. The President, Prime Minister and the entire Government has taken a decision to control this. Because you can’t continue this nonsense.
It has become a nuisance to the people of the country. So we will take serious action to control these things and freely flow foreign investments to this country.