In spite of the fact that charitable organizations, such as the Sylvia Lanka Foundation, a group of Sri Lankans living in England, have donated medical equipment to Sri Lanka worth 39 billion rupees, there is a risk that the country will not receive the donation because of its inability to raise the 1.25 billion necessary to import the goods.
This is an interview with Lankasara on the efforts performed by Rajakeeya Pandita Rajawella Subhuthi Thero, the head of the Hospital Service Board in Sri Lanka and a representative of the Sylvia Lanka Foundation, and the current state of the donation to Sri Lanka.
Question: Why did you intend to bring such a large stock of medical equipment at once?
Answer: We have been running this service for 12 years as the Hospital Service Board. We are working with six countries, namely England, America, Canada, Germany, Australia, and Japan. We prefer to buy medical equipment from England.
Question: Is there a reason for this preference for medical equipment from England even though you are dealing with six countries?
Answer: Because the electricity capacity in our hospitals is the same as the electricity capacity used in hospitals in England. In that case, it is easy to use those devices in our hospitals. And we get new medical equipment from England. Used medical equipment is often sourced from other countries. That is why I recently went to England and held several discussions. As a result of that, organizations, including the Sylvia Foundation, set up by Sri Lankans in the country, took steps to donate medical equipment worth Rs. 39 billion to us.
Question: Why did you decide to get the support of the hospital board instead of getting the support of the Ministry of Health to distribute equipment of such great importance to the hospitals in this country?
Answer: We have been providing this service for 12 years. We provide this service with transparency. We identify hospitals that need medical equipment, distribute it to them, and send a report to England. Those organizations have placed the utmost trust in us.
Question: Medical equipment worth millions has been donated to Sri Lanka. Has the Ministry of Health, as well as the government, been informed to bring them to this country?
Answer: I am the representative of the Sylvia Foundation in Sri Lanka. The foundation in England had informed the president and sent a letter. The health secretary has also received a copy of the same letter. We have even held a discussion about this in the Ministry of Health.
Not only that, the health minister had said in this regard that we should choose what we need from these devices. They have sent us what they need. We made a list of them and sent it to the provincial and regional hospital directors under the signature of the Director General of Health Services, along with a list of what they needed.
Question: Looking at the interest of the Ministry of Health in this regard, it is felt that there is a strong need for this equipment. Even if there is a need, how are you planning to bring the equipment?
Answer: At the moment, no money has been allocated to bring these types of equipment from the decentralized budget of the Ministry of Health. But when we discussed this with the Minister of Health, he said that a letter had come from the President’s Office asking him to do this somehow. To allocate some money for this. The secretary of the Ministry of Health has requested some money from the Ministry of Finance through the President’s Office. The minister said that this letter has also been sent now. Cabinet approval is required for this.
Question: The time left for us to bring this stock of equipment to Sri Lanka is very limited. Will we lose these donations?
Answer: We were asked to give the final notification by April 4. We could not tell by the 4th. We asked for two weeks, and those two weeks ended on April 18. We sent another letter on the 17th with a copy of the letter of exchange, stating that money would be provided by the Presidential Secretariat.
Question: Do you have any written evidence of the arrangements made by the Ministry of Health and the Presidential Secretariat to bring this stock of medical equipment to Sri Lanka?
Answer: So far, nothing has been received in writing. All were received verbally. The only evidence available is a copy of the request letter from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Finance—that is the only one we have received.
Question: What kind of support was received from the officials of the Ministry of Health in trying to get this large stock of medical equipment into the country?
Answer: I did not get that much help from the officials. But the Director General of Health Services, and the Secretary of the Ministry, who worked as the COVID disease coordinator, was interested in this matter. These people said with evidence that we need the stock of equipment. That is also something to be content with.
Question: The eyes of the Ministry of Health were opened after the reports in this regard were published by various media, is that right?
Answer: That is correct. The interest of these people increased only after it was publicized by the media.
Question: The Ministry of Health did not get assistance in bringing the hospital equipment through your organization earlier. But why did the Ministry of Health decide to get support to get these pieces of equipment?
Answer: High taxes are levied on goods imported from overseas. If it comes to our name, this tax will not be waived. The tax can be waived only if it is given to the government. Therefore, the Ministry of Health had to be involved in this. It is the government’s responsibility not to collect taxes from voluntary organizations like us.
Question: If the support from the government is pathetic, can the general public support this?
Answer: We are definitely waiting for the same thing now. If the people can provide this amount together. This is an important matter because relief will be given to the people.
This can be done very easily if the people of the country credit our account with 10 rupees each or 5 rupees each. Our account number is mentioned below. If everyone supports this, this work can be done easily.
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