A pharmacist attends to a man in Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children in Colombo. Image Credit: AFP

Colombo/New Delhi: Cash-strapped Sri Lanka announced a 40 per cent price hike for dozens of commonly used medicines on Saturday as the island nation labours through its worst economic crisis in decades.

Months of lengthy blackouts and acute shortages of food, fuel and pharmaceuticals have sparked widespread protests calling for the government’s resignation.

Hospitals have already cancelled routine surgeries after running out of anaesthetics, and Saturday’s directive applies to 60 medicines in short supply.

Antibiotics, non-prescription painkillers and medications for heart conditions and diabetes will all be subject to the price rise, health minister Channa Jayasumana said.

It is the second time in six weeks that pharmaceutical prices have been raised. In mid-March a 30 percent increase was imposed.

Industry officials said the latest hike was necessary to offset the impact of fuel prices, which have doubled since December.

Official figures released Friday showed Sri Lanka’s inflation rate at nearly 30 percent in April, a seventh consecutive record high.

Sri Lanka has run out of foreign currency to import sorely needed essential goods.

The government this month announced a default on its $51 billion foreign debt and asked citizens abroad to donate money to help the island out of its economic predicament.

Sri Lanka has asked for an International Monetary Fund bailout, which could take up to three months to arrive.

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India on Friday supplied a large consignment critical medical aid to Sri Lanka, which is going through a medical emergency situation with many life-saving drugs out of stock, forcing doctors to delay major surgeries.

The Indian High Commissioner in Colombo, Gopal Baglay, handed over the consignment comprising 107 types of critical lifesaving medicines weighing over 760kg to Sri Lanka Health Minister Channa Jayasumana.

Due to the urgency, the consignment was expeditiously delivered using the Indian Naval Ship Ghariyal.

“More medical consignments in response to specific requests by various medical entities operating in all parts of Sri Lanka are also being scheduled from India,” Baglay said in a statement.

The urgent lifesaving drugs supply followed Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s offer to assist the island’s Central Hill-country Hospital in Peradeniya which announced in late March that all scheduled surgeries were to be suspended due to lack of drugs and consumables.

Disturbed by the news, Jaishankar, who was on a visit to Sri Lanka last month, had instructed Baglay to discuss how India could help.

A week later, in the first week of April, all major medical trade unions collectively warned and declared a medical crisis as doctors and hospitals reported widespread shortage of medicines.

The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), the country’s biggest union of doctors, then urged the World Health Organization and all the countries to immediately supply much-needed medicines and consumables to Sri Lanka.