A salute to Prof. Carlo Fonseka

Daily News Editorial

Prof. Carlo Fonseka, no doubt, would be the toast of all right thinking people, especially the sick and the feeble, who were subjected to several ordeals during the past few weeks as a result of the callous conduct by government doctors to resort to strike action over an issue with which they (patients) have no truck with, whatsoever, namely the demand to abolish the SAITM medical faculty. When a group of GMOA members visited him at his residence to request him to stay put in his post as President of the Sri Lanka Medical Council, Prof. Fonseka, one of the most preeminent academics produced by this country, virtually went on bended knees, pleading with the doctors not to go on strike on his behalf and heap hardship on the innocent patients. He made it clear he had served his full term, and more, in the post he had just vacated and wanted the chapter closed.

Clearly, Prof. Fonseka is not keen to be a party to the kind of action that the doctors were contemplating viz to paralyse the country’s health sector and endanger the lives of the patients. Moreover, the erudite scholar who had devoted the best part of his life to the cause of medicine would be the last person to encourage those who passed out of his hands to be the instruments of suffering or death. True, Prof. Fonseka too is an ardent advocate against private medical colleges and was vehement in his stand for the abolishment of SAITM. Still, he would not endorse the means resorted to be the doctors to win their demands. His obsequious request to the doctors bears this out.

It is hoped that the GMOA doctors, many of whom, no doubt, had been Prof. Fonseka’s pupils would heed his call and desist from plunging the country into a crisis at this juncture when appeals have gone out from Maha Sangha and His Eminence the Cardinal to the doctors to rethink their strike action in the face of the mounting dengue catastrophe. Prof. Fonseka’s example, also, hopefully, would act as a shining beacon to the Opposition political parties hell bent on adding fuel to the ongoing crisis as a means of regaining lost power and drive some sense into the medical students who have allowed themselves to be pawns of scheming politicians.

We say this because an ultimatum of sorts has been issued by the GMOA to the government to do away with SAITM “and remain in power or continue with the status quo and be driven out of power” in the words of the GMOA Assistant Secretary Dr. Naveen De Zoysa. The GMOA has also elicited the support of the Joint Opposition, the JVP, the Peratugami Pakshaya and trade unions of the government and private sector, for, what it appears to be, one final putsch to dislodge the government if the SAITM issue is not settled to the satisfaction of the doctors. It is strange indeed to note the GMOA working hand in hand with the JO on the SAITM matter with the full knowledge that the private medical college in Malabe was Mahinda Rajapaksa’s baby with JO leader Dinesh Gunawardena, no less, submitting the gazette in parliament for the establishment of SAITM and Rajapaksa granting some 600 million smackers in its initial stages. Except that the GMOA has given up all pretenses of being an apolitical body and does not care anymore if its alliance with Rajapaksa is a public secret or not.

Be that as it may, the threat by the doctors, if it materializes in the coming days, will be another in a series of doctors’ strikes that is bound to continue in the future as well plunging the health sector into a major crisis with dire consequences to the government. It is therefore incumbent on the Yahapalanaya regime to draw up contingency plans to face up to any eventuality. The current stalemate cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. The GMOA, it appears, is not going to comedown from its hard line stand on SAITM and the government too cannot be seen to be giving in meekly to the doctors’ demands.

But what is at stake here is the lives of the patients. Certain GMOA spokesmen have also warned that they will even be forced to withdraw from emergency services, as a last resort, though it is moot if this threat will be carried out short of doctors being lynched by the public. Still, the government would have to look for alternative options if it is not to draw the public wrath towards it.

Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne has already spoken of a move to split the GMOA and co-opt the rival faction to function during doctors’ strikes in the future. This, no doubt, is bound to exacerbate the problem given the massive manpower resources at the GMOA’s disposal. It is here that the Minister’s plan to entrust the smooth functioning of the health service (and others) to an individual like Sarath Fonseka could be put to the test. Drastic situations call for drastic remedies.