Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature South Asia

The devastating health consequences of Sri Lanka’s economic collapse

BMJ 2022; 377 doi: (Published 29 June 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;377:o1543
  1. Sonia Sarkar, freelance journalist
  1. New Delhi, India
  1. 26.sarkar{at}

Sri Lanka’s sudden economic collapse has broken its healthcare system. Sonia Sarkar reports on how the country might claw back years of progress, lost in months

On 22 May, a 2 day old infant in Haldummulla, Sri Lanka, started to experience rapidly falling glucose levels. Her parents wanted to rush her to a nearby hospital but didn’t have enough petrol in their vehicle.

The child’s father queued for petrol for hours, as the infant’s condition deteriorated. Finally, he was able to drive her to the local hospital, only to be told to take her to the emergency unit of an advanced hospital in Colombo, 190 km away.

Unfortunately, it was too late by the time they reached the hospital, and the baby didn’t survive.1

“Severe hypoglycaemia contributed to the death, which could have been prevented if petrol was easily available,” says Lakkumar Fernando, president of Sri Lanka’s Association of Medical Specialists. “Even if we consider this death as a statistic, these deaths will eventually be counted to analyse where the country stands in terms of its healthcare indicators.”

On 20 May 2022, Sri Lanka failed to make £63m ($77m, €73m) of foreign debt repayments. The default has made it harder to borrow money and has devalued the country’s currency. Inflation hit 30%, and the government no longer has the cash reserves to import food, fuel, and medicines. The pandemic—and the subsequent collapse of tourism—is one reason, but critics also cite mismanagement, such as a series of tax cuts that have left the government short of funds. Desperate citizens have rioted, and politicians have gone into hiding.

Sri Lanka’s universally accessible healthcare system is also on the verge of collapse. With no foreign cash reserves available for imports, the country has an …

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