With love and care: Sri Lankans in UAE send life-saving medical supplies home

Residents in UAE and other nations join daily meetings with Sri Lanka's government officials to ‘bridge the gap’ in critical medicines

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Life-saving medical supplies are being sent from the UAE and other countries to Sri Lanka by concerned citizens as hospitals run out of essential medicines and the island nation grapples with its worst economic crisis.

Every day Sri Lankan citizens in the UAE, UK and India join online video meetings held by government medical officials that reveal the urgent requirements of hospitals across the country.

The Sri Lankan community overseas then contacts medical suppliers with lists that range from ventilator tubes for newborn babies, syringes, catheters and bags to store donated blood, to insulin vials, chemotherapy and cardiac medication.

Quote
These supplies are going to save so many lives
Dr Anver Hamdani, Sri Lanka Health ministry coordinator

The teams have been working for the past few weeks to purchase supplies, pack these in Dubai warehouses and air freight the cartons to Sri Lanka.

“Expatriates have been a great support to us in this difficult juncture. They have helped bridge the gap with donor activities all over the world,” said Dr Anver Hamdani, recently appointed as Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health co-ordinator for healthcare service.

“If not for this voluntary overseas effort of Sri Lankans coming forward, we would have found it very hard to manage an acute crisis on a day-to-day basis.”

The World Bank has agreed to provide Sri Lanka with $600 million in financial assistance to help meet payments for essential imports, and neighbouring nations such as India, Indonesia and China have also pledged assistance.

But this aid will take time to arrive in hospitals in need of immediate assistance. This prompted the Sri Lankan community overseas to swing into action when they heard requests for help from doctors across the nation’s hospitals.

“These supplies have helped so many institutions. They come and tell us how these supplies are going to save so many lives,” Dr Hamdani told The National from Colombo.

“There is a shortage of medicines that we are trying to overcome by identifying the vital and essential drugs needed for the country.”

He said Sahana, a Sri Lankan welfare association in the UAE, the Narayana Reddy foundation in India and groups in the UK, US and Australia had been a tremendous support.

Once supplies are received in Colombo, they are sent to about 400 hospitals suffering shortages.

Medical supplies packed in a warehouse in Dubai's Ras Al Khor areas will be sent via air cargo to Sri Lanka to hospitals struggling to cope with dangerous shortages in essential medicines. Chris Whiteoak / The National

It was a desperate audio recording sent by a Sri Lankan doctor early this month to colleagues that caught the attention of the overseas community.

The doctor said that used endotracheal tubes would need to be sterilised for reuse in the neonatal unit. The tubes connect to ventilators to help infants and children breathe and his dire message triggered a flood of supplies.

Isthiaq Raziq, president of Sahana in the UAE, said the group was also working with Sri Lankans in Australia and Canada who were keen to help.

More than Dh90,000 worth of medical supplies has been sent home.

“The community has come together regardless of any association knowing there is a medical crisis and that Sri Lanka does not have the liquidity to purchase these medications,” he said.

“We have been despatching emergency supplies for the last three weeks. The UAE being very close it’s easier to reach supplies because there are a dozen flights going to Sri Lanka.”

Residents have also carried supplies in their baggage when flying home.

Cartons are being sent as air cargo with the UAE and Sri Lanka flags and tagged with the message: With love and care Sri Lankans in the UAE.

Sri Lanka’s financial crisis sparked protests across the country with record inflation resulting in food and fuel shortages, and power blackouts.

The country normally imports 85 per cent of its medical requirements. The lack of foreign currency reserves meant it ran out of dollars to pay for imports placing the healthcare system in crisis.

Some essential medicines and surgical supplies from India and Indonesia have reached Sri Lanka. But doctors believe it will take at least another month for the medical crisis to ease and the donations pledged to be deployed or made available in Sri Lanka.

Dr Hamdani, who was also in charge of Covid-19 co-ordination, said people could email moh.covid.coordinator@gmail.com for more information about the medical aid that is required.

“Whoever wants to come forward, whoever is willing to help us out, they can reach us through email. We will send all the details, list of drugs, explain the process, the necessary documents and liaise with them,” he said.

Updated: April 29, 2022, 3:45 AM
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