“The private sector is critical to Sri Lanka’s COVID response strategy” – APHNH President

Highlights the role played by the private healthcare sector in Sri Lanka’s covid response, with testing and Intermediary Care Centers
New regulations and restrictions have eliminated almost 50% of the daily contribution in private sector PCR testing
Only 50% of private healthcare workers have received vaccinations
Calls for mutual trust with the private sector and more involvement of private hospitals in vaccine distribution, testing and care.

Amidst the prolonged travel restrictions and recent spikes in COVID-19 cases, the President of the Association of Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes (APHNH) outlined the crucial role of the private sector in the national response to the pandemic, at a recent online discussion hosted by the Advocata Institute, a public policy think tank.

“With the emergence of COVID-19, the private hospital industry came together as one to implement a coordinated response. So far, we have been able to set up PCR testing facilities to increase the country’s capacity to test. We also set up Intermediary Care Centers which enhanced the country’s capacity to treat an additional 7500 COVID patients,” remarked APHNH President, Dr. Lakith Peiris.

According to healthcare experts, faster vaccine procurement and administration becomes critical as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. Speaking at the panel, Executive Director and Fellow at the Institute for Health Policy, Dr. Ravi Rannan-Eliya noted that the immediate short-term need is to continue PCR testing and tracing as this is the most cost-effective and feasible intervention to control the rapid spread of the pandemic. However, he also noted that it should simultaneously be combined with an effective and agile strategy to distribute and administer vaccines, island-wide.

In matters of urgency, Dr. Lakith also noted that only 50% of the medical staff in the private sector received vaccinations. As private healthcare workers handle over 50% of the out-patient care in the country and face high risks of contact with the virus, APHNH reiterated the importance of strategic vaccine distribution that involves their hospital workers as well.

“We have constantly told the MOH and Government that the private sector is ready to assist with the vaccination administering process, but we have not heard from the Government yet. The current process is too slow, we need to gear up and expand the distribution,” commented Dr. Peiris, in relation to the need to ramp up vaccinations.

Whilst the private sector cannot partake indirectly in procuring vaccines yet due to limited supply, APHNH reiterates that private hospitals are still equipped with the relevant proficiencies and prepared to assist in other areas such as administering the available vaccines and boosting PCR testing. Prior to the most recent regulations that restricted private labs from testing, the private sector was completing more than 16,000 tests a day through the 10 labs that were approved by the Ministry of Health and the Epidemiology unit. Despite the Government’s intention to exercise precaution and focus on public healthcare, the new guidelines have reduced testing dramatically.

While APHNH commends the Government for its efforts to include the private sector in Sri Lanka’s measures to combat COVID-19, the total potential of private hospitals and their capacity to be involved in testing, vaccinations, and COVID patient care is yet to be realized.

“In a pandemic, you need to have mutual trust and allow the private sector to take off a part of the burden of the Government’s response. Without that trust and partnership, we will find it very difficult to combat COVID-19. Private hospitals have been very agile and responsive in providing top-quality healthcare services to our Sri Lankans and proving that they are worthy of this trust,” concluded Dr. Peiris.

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The Quote:

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