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Farmers flung in the mud
By Nilika de Silva
Rice farmers are facing severe hardships due to low prices for paddy, following the import of rice earlier this year, and the problem is compounded as a large number of paddy mills have closed down, The Sunday Times learns.

The price of paddy has dropped from Rs. 13 a kilo to Rs. 11.

When the price was Rs. 13 , farmers had deposited their paddy in stores, with a view to selling it at a later date when the price increased. But the drop in prices has now left the farmers helpless and unable to pay the interest on their loans.

Elahera Farmers Society, Chairman and Managing Director, D.C. Wimalaratne said, "Usually this is the time when paddy goes at a good price, but this year things are bad. We cannot imagine how the prices will be in the future."

"The lorries are also not coming as earlier," Minneriya Farmers Society, Acting Director, Karunaratne Abeygunasekera told The Sunday Times, explaining the plight of the farmers.

Furthermore the wastage in storing has resulted in the farmers losing about 4 1/2 kilos per bundle of paddy weighing 65 kilos.

Representatives of 21 farmer organisations in Polonnaruwa will meet on Thursday to discuss the crisis, Mr. Abeygunasekera said.

"Already about 70 paddy mills have shut down and we are badly affected by this," Polonnaruwa Ekabadda Govi Sanvidanaya secretary, Wijesuriya Perera told The Sunday Times.

"There are only about three or four mills working on a daily basis, he added. It is definitely because rice was imported that we are having to face this debacle. There was an excessive quantity of rice in the market at the wrong time," Mr. Perera said.

Meanwhile the move to remove the fertilizer subsidy has led to traders hoarding urea stocks and at present a grave shortage of urea is reported at a time when it is most needed, Mr. Perera said.

Meanwhile, some 200 paddy milling centres are set to close down due to the inability to sell the rice in the face of imported rice flowing into the market, leaving farmers in the lurch.

PA expects huge crowd for hartal, but JVP boycotts
By Shelani Perera
A massive crowd is expected for tomorrow's Hartal commemoration, procession and rally but a dispute between the PA and the JVP has marred the event.

Chief organiser and Opposition leader Mahinda Rajapakse said thousands of people from trade unions, political parties and other groups were expected to take part with the focus on the rising cost of living and privatisation.

He said the procession and rally were being held in the evening so that normal work would not be disrupted.

Mr. Rajapakse said the JVP had asked that the protests should also be against the ceasefire and the peace talks but the PA could not agree.

JVP Parliamentarian K. Lalkantha said the JVP would not join tomorrow's protest as it believed the national question was the key issue.

Student police in school buses
Strict security and disciplinary meassure are being enforced in several boys schools following the recent clashes among students and the consequent closure of some schools.

Education Minister Karunasene Kodituwakku held a crisis meeting with principals of 15 boys schools and two Colombo DIGs to discuss the extra security meassures.

This week a phased out opening of the affected schools took place with Pannipitiya Dharmapala Vidyalaya, Maharagama Janadhipathi and St John's opening classes on a staggered basis.

Education Ministry Additional Secretary G.L.S. Nanayakkara said the principals of these schools had taken on the responsibility of curbing bad behaviour of students in school buses or elsewhere.

Ananda College Deputy principal R. Ponnamperuma told said Ananda boys were now under orders to wear school colours on their shirt pockets while student societies have been set up to ensure good behaviour in buses.

D.S. Senanayake Assistant Principal T.D. Fernando said two student monitors had been appointed for each of the school buses.

Desmond probes lawyers position in Nepal
Well known lawyer Desmond Fernando led a Mission of the International Bar Association to Nepal recently to see whether the legal profession there is free to carry out its professional duties without outside interference.

Mr. Fernando'also ascertained whether the recently arrested lawyers in Nepal had been arrested for representing suspected terrorists or whether there was some substance in the reasons for their arrest, if their arrest and detention was in accordance with Nepal's obligations under international law. The delegation also ascertained if protection or remedies were available for unconstitutional acts on the part of the State and whether Nepal's laws and constitution are in principle consistent with its obligations for basic rights.

Prof. Phillip Tahmindjis of the Faculty of Law, University of Queensland, Australia and Council Member of the International Bar Association and Admiral Paul Hoddinott, former International Bar Association Executive Director were the other members of the Mission.

The delegation met the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice, the Attorney General, the Law Secretary, the Home Minister, the chair of the National Human Rights Commission, the Inspector General of Police, representatives of the Royal Nepalese Army and the Chairman of the Bar Association of Nepal, during its stay in Nepal.

Drug expenditure can be slashed by 50%
Medical expenditure for Sri Lanka as a whole and for individuals could be slashed by about 50% if drug imports are regulated and prescribing practices changed, a health expert said.

Dr. K. Balasubramaniam, former senior lecturer in Pharmacology and now Asia Pacific co-ordinator for Health Action International told a seminar Sri Lanka urgently needed a public health policy and national drug policy through which the cost of medical expenditure could be slashed and economic growth accelerated.

Addressing the seminar organised by the Action Committee on Justice for Patients, Dr. Balasubramaniam who says his highest qualification was being a student of Prof. Senaka Bibile, pointed out that drugs were quite different from any other consumer items.

"In consumer activities market forces play a great part and control prices through competition while the consumers have the power to select whatever they want. But in medicine the consumer cannot choose what he or she wants. It is chosen by the prescriber- the General Practitioner or Consultant. Therefore there is no free market in medicine. Market forces do not operate in the pharmaceutical sector," he said.

Displaying charts and figures obtained through international research as a WHO advisor on world drug prices, Dr. Balasubramaniam gave comparative drug prices in 9 developing countries. He pointed out that 100 units of one drug-Zantac-(ranitidine) cost 2 US dollars in India, 82 in Zambia and as much as 116 in South Africa.

"Thus it is clear market forces do not operate in the pharmaceutical sector," he said.
"The consumers of drugs are really the doctors, because they prescribe. Therefore there are two factors that control drug expenditure, the retail prices of drugs and prescribing practices of doctors. Both are equally important," he said. Dr. Balasubramaniam told the seminar held at the Centre for Society and Religion that since market forces did not operate in the drug industry, prices needed to be regulated by the government.

"But Sri Lanka has decided to adopt market mechanism - including liberalization, privatization and competition to promote economic growth. Can Sri Lanka remove healthcare medicine from the mechanism of the market forces? We have to answer that question.

Let us see what other countries have done.
"Western European developed countries have employed market mechanisms to achieve high per-capita income. But they have rejected market mechanisms for healthcare and pharmaceuticals.These two sectors are regulated by the governments of those countries. They allow parallel importing and have reference pricing," Dr. Balasubramaniam said. He added the United States was not a good role model because though it allocated the highest amount for health it rated far down in the list of developed countries.

"In Sri Lanka we have good quality generic drugs and that could be the reference price. If Sri Lanka sincerely wants to lower drug expenditure it must regulate the market. We need a national public health policy and a national drug policy under which healthcare and drugs could be regulated. In this national healthcare policy public health interest should take precedence over commercial interests," Dr. Balasubramaniam said.

He pointed out that retail prices for generics were about 50% lower in Sri Lanka than in India but the prices of brand names here were double the prices in India.

"In Sri Lanka there is a vast difference between the brand and the generic prices. Retail prices of generic drugs brought through the State Pharmaceutical Corporation on a process worked out by Professor Senaka Bibile have not gone up much though the prices of brand names have shot up. In Sri Lanka the prices of brand names are often about 120 times more than the generic names.

"A comparison of prices shows that the SPC is buying drugs at half the price paid by private importers though they buy the same quality drug from the same manufacturer.

Here is a question of public health interest versus commercial interests.

"Figures show that a few drug importers in Sri Lanka are allowed to make huge profits at the expense of the economy of the country.

This is a waste of foreign exchange," Dr. Balasubramaniam said.

Another speaker Dr. Joel Fernando said Sri Lankan doctors today were getting very little objective updated information on drug prices and related matters from medical authorities or associations. Instead they were being flooded with largely promotional information from private drug companies in addition to thousands of rupees worth of expensive brand samples.

The third speaker Dr. Eugene Corea cited Sri Lanka Medical Council guidelines which say that if a prescriber derives financial benefits directly or indirectly from what he or she prescribes, it may amount to serious professional misconduct.

Mystery death of research officer: Who did what?
By Tania Fernando
The death of a Peradeniya university post graduate research assistant is still shrouded in mystery with family members alleging police assault and the police saying he was assaulted by the public.

Family and friends of the victim 33-year-old M. K. Piyaratne, claimed that police had assaulted him after he allegedly tried to leave the Peradeniya hospital in someone else's car.

The mystery began when the research assistant was admitted to Peradeniya hospital some weeks ago with high fever. Family members alleged that doctors had mis-diagnosed the ailment, first treating him for Malaria, then for Typhoid. The patient had also complained of double vision but doctors had allegedly ignored him. Mr. Piyaratne's wife Nilmini said she had visited him last month but a few hours later Mr. Piyaratne had reportedly left the hospital with the canula still fixed to his wrist.

He had allegedly tried to get into a car that was parked and had bitten the hand of the driver who was seated in the car. When the driver had shouted, others around had assaulted Piyaratne, thinking that he was about to hijack the car. He was later handed over to Peradeniya Police.

Meanwhile, Mr. Piyaratne's university colleague D. R. G. S. P. Ranasinghe, who was passing that way in a bus alleged he had seen his friend on the road with Police, and being assaulted by them. He said he had got off the bus and tried to explain to the policeman who he was and that Piyaratne was sick and should not be assaulted.

"When I tried to explain to them, they said that he was a mad man and had tried to bite the driver," Mr. Ranasinghe said alleging that he too had been threatened by the police.

Mr. Ranasinghe said he had then rushed to inform Mr. Piyaratne's wife and a university professor with whom he went to the police station, but they were informed that Mr. Piyaratne had again been admitted to the Peradeniya hospital.

Nilmini Piyaratne said she too had rushed to the police station and was told her husband was taken to hospital but she claimed she saw police washing blood on the floor.

She claimed that when she went to hospital she saw her husband with his hands and feet in cuffs and a doctor told her he was dead on admission.

ASP, G. B. Peramune, claimed Mr. Piyaratne was not assaulted by the police, but by the public as he was acting like a mentally disturbed person.

The ASP said they had written to the eye witness Mr. Ranasinghe asking him to come forward and give evidence but Mr. Ranasinghe said he had received no letter from the police. He said he had earlier given a statement to a police officer saying he had seen Mr. Piyaratne being assaulted by the police.

Nilmini Piyaratne said her husband had no mental problem nor was he a thief and she was determined to clear his name for the sake of their three -year-old child.

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