Tens of thousands of patients have been left in the lurch by a doctor-led strike at Sri Lanka’s state-run hospitals, a consumer rights group said on Saturday.
The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA), the island’s biggest trade union of doctors, stopped work on Thursday to demand the government close down a private medical college established in 2008, protesting its allegedly poor standards of education.
The strike has affected tens of thousands of mostly poor people who seek free medical care at state-run hospitals, unable to afford treatment at private facilities which have remained open, an official at the National Movement for Consumer Rights Protection said.
Local media reports said the affected hospitals were turning away patients requiring emergency medical attention in some cases.
“Poor people in hospitals are pleading for their lives as doctors refuse to treat them,” the consumer group’s chief Ranjith Vithanage told AFP.
“My own mother is in a state hospital battling for her life.”
He said striking doctors should face criminal prosecutions over any deaths resulting from the action.
“We will gather outside your homes and seek the help of gods to curse you and force you to return to work,” the group said in an open letter to the striking doctors.
Hundreds of students from state-run universities stormed the health ministry on Wednesday and smashed cars and furniture in a bid to pressure the government into closing the private medical college.
The government has insisted that it will not interfere with people’s freedom to choose private higher education.
A GMOA official said doctors had opposed the establishment of the college in 2008, but could not protest at the time because they feared reprisals from the previous regime of president Mahinda Rajapakse.