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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2340

The right to life carries much more than the right to education - GMOA Secretary

The Court of Appeal directed the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) to give provisional registration to medical students passing out from South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM).

The verdict was announced on 31st January 2017 at the end of a writ petition filed by two MBBS graduates from SAITM. The petition was filed after the SLMC refused to register a batch of students who passed out from SAITM.

Sri Lanka is going to become the first and the only country in the world with doctors who have not been recognized by their own medical council. In civilized countries the medical profession and the medical education is recognized by their respective medical councils.

The Government Medical Officers' Association (GMOA) which is in the forefront of preserving the medical council and the medical profession said a national front would be launched with regard to the SAITM in Malabe, by making the political parties of the country aware of the matter. The GMOA which is striving to maintain an excellent health service in the country are planning to form a broad alliance.

Dr. Naveen de Soyza, Secretary of the GMOA addressing a media briefing said the reason behind this discussion is to clarify on the irresponsible behaviour of the Health Minister and his SAITM-based stand. "Our aim is to create a strong force against the SAITM and secure the lives of patients as well as the medical field. We are taking every possible step to do so," he added.

It is the responsibility of the GMOA to take measures to improve the quality of the health service and enhance the acceptance to it worldwide. The standards of medical education and medical practices not only affect doctors, more than anybody else it affects the general public. Patients taking treatment in government hospitals are going to be affected by substandard practices in medicine. Right to life carries much more than the right to education. Even in other professions you have to be properly qualified. Especially in medical profession this is more important.

Awarding and receiving medical degrees merely should not meant for killing people. The students at SAITM themselves have told us that they do not get clinical training. They are using dummies instead of human beings for their clinical training. Do those who go for driving lessons get driving licence without passing the training? Merely for the reason a person wants to get a driving licence, can he be negligent on people who are on the road?

Similarly in this medical profession, we should think and respect the rights of patients to live. Even during a trade union strike, we have to be mindful of this responsibility.

In Dinamina, there was a news item appearing, quoting the Health Minister saying he hasn't seen the court verdict yet. In the court report it is mentioned in five places that the Health Minister has not mentioned about the shortcomings of SAITM and that he would take action to correct them.

The most essential factor in medicine is clinical training. The SLMC President, Professor Carlo Fonseka, had previously mentioned that if only SAITM students undergo one year's clinical training that they might be considered to be registered under the SLMC.

Dr. Haritha Aluthge, Assistant Secretary, GMOA, said it is clear from the court verdict given recently on the SAITM, that the Health Minister had not acted upon the recommendations made by the Sri Lanka Medical Council. The Health Minister has deliberately omitted to uphold the recommendations of the SLMC in SAITM issue by neglecting Professor Rizvi Sheriff committee report and put the whole system into a crisis. In the court decision, in 5 places, it is mentioned that the final authority in regard to submission of the true facts of the SLMC recommendations to the court was with the Health Minister and he should have acted according to the SLMC recommendations. Therefore the court was compelled to take this decision. The SLMC is the technical council to make recommendations and it should not come from anybody above or his own home.

The SLMC has the responsibility to maintain the quality of health services and protect the rights and lives of patients. Therefore we should take every measure to protect the sovereignty of the SLMC.

There is a discussion in the country on the SAITM issue and the GMOA's struggle is not against SAITM, but solely to protect the lives of people.

When a patient goes to a government hospital there is no choice for him or her. Therefore this is a critical situation as regards to the quality of SAITM degree holders.

When considering the court decision and the gazette notifications in relevance to that too, it is clear that the Minister of Higher Education has acted contradictorily. There is no difference between, the previous and the present Minister of Higher Education and the present minister is perfectly following the previous minister. In other words our belief is that both the Health Minister and the Higher Education Minister have purposely ignored in submitting the correct information to the Courts.

However, there is a big difference between the previous and the present Health Minister. Two years ago, the previous Health Minister, the present President released a written notice through his Secretary clearly mentioning that SAITM would never be vested with legal or any other authority to function as a Medical College.

In 2011, during the period of the previous Higher Education Minister issued the very first gazette notification requiring the SAITM to complete 13 conditions within a time frame. But they couldn't do so. One of them was to establish a teaching hospital within 18 months. The last date was 28 February 2014. Without complying to these, conditions how did they get legal authority to award medical degrees?

In August 2014, then Higher Education Ministry Secretary, Sunil J. Navaratne received a letter from SAITM Chairman stating that they had completed all the conditions. And Sunil J Navaratne adamantly issued a letter authorizing SAITM to function as a medical college. However, according to the University Act all the regulations should be made through gazette notifications.

The strange thing was a SAITM student filing a case in September 2014 requesting SAITM to provide them with clinical training at Avissawella hospital or Kaduwela MHO Office.

Both these Ministers have given negative examples to the country. Previously we remember a student of the SAITM made a complaint to the Courts that they do not get clinical training. Can these degree holders treat human beings who are made of blood and flesh, when they have undergone clinical training using dummies?
Accordingly the GMOA is scheduled to play a massive role aimed at ensuring standards of medical education and protecting patients rights.

Dr. Haritha Aluthge, briefed that they have discussed the matter with the Joint Opposition members including former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) LSSP and several other political parties, during the last week.

The GMOA has already written to the President Maithripala Sirisena on the effects of the ruling directing the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) to register SAITM's MBBS graduates. "We have also written to the General Secretaries of the SLFP and university students, parents and several unions including the Inter University Students' Federation (IUSF).

The GMOA looks forward to revealing the whole country the true facts that these two ministers concealed from the courts.

- Asian Tribune –

Dr. Naveen de Soyza, Secretary of the GMOA
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