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 in directly 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 their 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 realised.
“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.
Established in 1972, the APHNH represents all the country’s private hospitals and nursing homes. According to official statistics from the Institute for Health Policy, the private healthcare sector accounts for Rs. 193 billion in expenditure on medical goods and services, which amounts to nearly 55% of the country’s total healthcare cost. As the leading representative of this industry, the association plays a vital role in uplifting healthcare standards and building a healthier country. Through its representation in the Private Health Services Regulatory Council (PHSRC), APHNH plays an important role in the regulation of the country’s private health sector. Over the recent past, its efforts have also included facilitating skills development among healthcare workers, conducting courses for nurses to enhance their capability and contributing to the upliftment of healthcare standards in the country in various ways.