All should cooperate to eliminate Dengue - Dr. Asela Gunawardena | Sunday Observer

All should cooperate to eliminate Dengue - Dr. Asela Gunawardena

21 May, 2023
Fogging a mosquito breeding site
Fogging a mosquito breeding site

In an interview with the Sunday Observer, DGHS Dr. Asela Gunawardena called for more awareness on dengue, Rat Fever and Covid-19, especially the relevant preventive steps. He said the public should cooperate with all health guidelines and other preventive measures implemented by the Government and health authorities to keep these diseases at bay.

Excerpts from the interview

Q: Is there a threat of hospitals shutting down as a result of many doctors retiring from Government service?

A: There are two incidents. One of the incidents relates to the Anuradhapura Professorial Unit. Next is the retirement of 350 registered doctors. Relating to the Anuradhapura Professorial Unit, doctors are appointed to these from the relevant faculties in universities.

Dr. Asela Gunawardena

Other in-house doctors and nursing staff are provided by the Department of Health. Two doctors of the unit in Anuradhapura have obtained sick leave. Another two have obtained leave and left the country. Though one had informed us he would return, he has not yet done so.

The lone doctor who was working in the unit must undergo mandatory training abroad for his specialisation. He left on March 30. This is why the unit was left with no specialist doctors.

After we were informed of the situation, we provided them with a specialist doctor considering the needs of medical students as well though it is not our job to do so. Another doctor has been chosen through an interview and relevant documentation has been forwarded to the Public Service Commission (PSC).

Considering the retirement of doctors, around 90 percent of doctors needed for rural hospitals have already been appointed and deployed. Just because 350 doctors are retiring, 350 hospitals will not shut down.

Q: Considering the current crisis, the majority of professionals leaving the country are doctors. Are there any steps the Ministry of Health can take to curb this?

A: A Public Service circular has been issued allowing State sector employees to take an extended leave of up to five years. This provision grants employees the opportunity to take leave if their duties can be adequately covered by others. However, some individuals have been taking leave without arranging for proper coverage or informing the Department of Health in advance.

The Government plays a crucial role in funding medical education, including post-graduate studies. As part of their training, those who graduate from post-graduate institutes are often required to undergo further training abroad. It is expected that they will return to Sri Lanka as they sign a bond committing to do so.

However, there have been instances where these doctors have failed to fulfill their obligation and did not return. To address this issue, steps are being taken to initiate legal action against those who have breached their bond agreements.

The departure of specialist doctors has become a growing concern amidst the trend of many individuals in the medical sector seeking opportunities abroad. However, they are covered by the circular. But this trend is not limited to the medical sector. It is anticipated that as the overall situation in the country improves, such occurrences will decrease.

Q: What is your response to the recent report regarding the import of certain eye medication that has been found to be of sub-par quality?

A: After cataract surgery, medicated eye drops are typically used on the operated eye of the patient. At least 15 patients from the National Eye Hospital, Nuwara Eliya and Gampaha recently reported adverse reactions to the drop used. A probe found that the fault lies with the medication known as Prednisolone.

It had been imported by the company which has done so for the past five years. These medications are tested in labs prior to export to other countries. If any fault is found it would have not been exported. But it has now made its way to Sri Lanka. We have taken steps to take back the medication in question that was distributed by us. We are also taking measures to provide treatment to the patients who suffered adverse effects. An investigation has also commenced on how contaminated eye drops were imported into Sri Lanka.

Q:The increasing number of people experiencing symptoms like cough, cold, and body pains raises concerns about the potential resurgence of Covid-19. Your comment?

A: There is a strain of influenza that is making the rounds these days. On occasion around five or six Covid-19 patients are reported but it is not a dangerous situation. If anyone is suffering from a cough it is fine to wear a face mask. We are monitoring the influenza situation and taking steps to inform the public if there is anything of concern.

Q: There are concerns about the rapid spread of dengue and allegations that the Ministry of Health’s response has been inadequate. What is your comment on this matter?

A: It is important to recognise that combatting dengue is not solely the responsibility of the Health Ministry. Mosquitoes, which carry the dengue virus, can be found in various environments, including public spaces and homes. It is crucial for everyone to play a role in preventing dengue by maintaining cleanliness in their surroundings and taking necessary precautions to prevent mosquito breeding.

According to surveys, the breeding grounds of dengue mosquitoes have been predominantly identified in various locations, including Government sector offices, private residences, and religious sites. Construction sites and schools have also been reported as breeding grounds.

Recognising this issue, directives have been issued to ensure these sites are properly cleaned and appropriate measures are taken to prevent mosquito breeding.

We have held special programs to create awareness around the country and initiated legal action against those who have allowed Dengue mosquitoes to breed on their premises. We urge people to keep their surroundings clean. We have also commenced fumigation. If everyone is more aware we can combat Dengue. Dengue prevention is a collective responsibility.

Dengue is more prevalent in districts such as Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ratnapura.

Q: What is the situation with regard to Rat Fever or Leptospirosis?

A: With the onset of torrential rains, there has been an increase in the number of Rat Fever patients, especially in districts such as Ratnapura, Kalutara and Galle. This disease is transmitted through the urine of rodents and if someone has a gash or wound and the urine comes into contact with that, a Rat Fever infection could occur. There are tablets which can prevent Rat Fever and these are available free from MOH offices. This disease too results in a high fever and it is advisable to go to the nearest hospital if symptoms persist. Any delay can prove to be fatal. Fortunately, our medical and nursing personnel know very well about this disease and treatments are readily available.

Q: What measures can the public take to safeguard their health?

A: Health is a broad subject area. We must seek to prevent illnesses prior to the need arising for one to be cured. Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) are all connected to our lifestyles. Therefore, we must be mindful of food and other habits to ensure we do not contract these diseases.

The Health Promotion Bureau (HPB) carries out awareness programs. Every illness or type of illness has a specialised unit. Mental and physical health are both important. We can only be a healthy nation if the number of patients arriving in hospitals and deaths due to these illnesses decrease. Our plea to the public is to take precautions to prevent contracting illnesses.