India’s people-centric gift to Sri Lanka bears fruits. Arogya Parama Laba has a deep meaning as described in the scriptures of the Lord Buddha. The interpretation is widely known as Health is the ultimate profit, happiness is the ultimate wealth. Every human being aspires to lead a healthy life. A healthy life leads to happiness.
Sri Lanka, where the majority of the populace has embraced Buddhism, takes pride in leading their lives according to the eightfold path of the Noble one. In this context, one can describe Health as Wealth.
As a welfare state, Sri Lanka allocates a colossal sum through the annual Health budget to maintain one of the most efficient health services in South Asia for the benefit and well-being of the people.
However, people were handicapped most of the time to arrive on time in hospitals in most health emergencies. This phenomenon is true in urban areas and the rural hinterland as well. Suwa Seriya, the Ambulance Service that operates islandwide, rendering a yeoman service to the rural folk, came into being after the Government of President Maithriplala Sirisiena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe assumed office in 2015.
A generous gift from India to provide immediate access to health services has contributed to the lives of the people maintaining a vibrant health sector in the country while serving the rural poor to a greater degree. A brainchild of Former Non-Cabinet Minister Harsha De Silva, the Suwa Seriya Ambulance Service received yet another boost when the Indian Government donated a large consignment of essential drugs for the Ambulance to operate without hindrance in these trying times.
Initially, the 1990 Suwa Seriya Project commenced its operations in two Provinces, the Western and Sabaragamuwa, with eighty eight Ambulances at its disposal. India provided a grant of US$7.6 million at the outset to purchase the Ambulances. At a subsequent stage, India granted another US$15.2 million to provide Ambulance services covering the entire island. The Suwa Seriya Ambulance Service has as many as 300 Ambulances today deployed to facilitate the people irrespective of their social status or rank.
A few days ago, High Commissioner for India in Sri Lanka Gopal Baglay handed over 3.3 tons of essential medical supplies donated by the Government of India for the 1990 Suwa Seriya Ambulance Service to the Chairman of Suwa Seriya Foundation, Duminda Rathnayaka, in the presence of Dr Harsha de Silva, Member of Parliament and Sohan de Silva, CEO of Suwa Seriya Foundation in Colombo on June 3.
In March 2022, when Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar visited the Suwa Seriya Headquarters in Colombo, the officials apprised him of the looming shortage of medical supplies faced by the Foundation. In response to the urgent requirement, the government of India deployed the Indian Naval Ship (INS) Gharial ensuring expeditious delivery of medical supplies to Sri Lanka. In addition to Suwa Seriya Foundation, Indian Naval Ship (INS) Gharial carried medical supplies for General Hospital Hambantota, Teaching Hospital, Peradeniya and Teaching Hospital, Jaffna.
The 1990 emergency Ambulance Service, stationed and spread across all the 25 Districts of Sri Lanka, is an excellent example set by India amply, displaying its people-centric and demand-driven development cooperation partnership with Sri Lanka. The Ambulance Service was realized through grant assistance of around USD 22 million by the Government of India. The service proves to be of immense value to the people of Sri Lanka and plays a vital role in saving precious lives.
Indian High Commission said that more than 25 tons of drugs and medical supplies valued at Sri Lankan Rupees 370 million so far donated by the Government and people of India during the last two months. The donation is in addition to the economic assistance of around USD 3.5 billion and a supply of other humanitarian aid such as rice, milk powder and kerosene.
The sole management of the Suwa Seriya Ambulance Service is the responsibility of the Government of Sri Lanka through the Suwa Seriya Foundation under an Act incorporated in Parliament and run by a voluntary and dedicated group. Soon after the initial phase of the Ambulance project, Sri Lanka took over the entire management of the service. Scores of people have benefited from the service, and a large segment of the population is aware of the good deeds of this invaluable service.
The project cost of the Suwa Seriya Ambulance service comes only next to the ongoing 60,000 houses grant that costs nearly USD 400 million. The Suwa Seriya Ambulance service bears a unique character in identification. The toll-free telephone number 1990 is frequent in usage among the people and is one that helps everybody in an emergency without any reservation. On information received, it takes only fifteen minutes to call over at your doorstep with paramedics to help the needy. It is more similar to a rapid response team in emergencies and is rendering an unparalleled service to everybody alike, thanks to Indian generosity. It is not an exaggeration to say the Suwa Seriya Ambulance encountered numerous problems and issues after its launch during the Yahapalana regime.
The Government Medical Officers Association had its perceptions of the project and entertained doubts and suspicion about its genuineness and continuation without a break. The ambitious determination of the government in the circumstances detested the objections with contempt and was steadfastly unyielding to the pressure exerted by the Government Medical Officers Association. The Medical Practitioners Association, at one stage, said they would not treat patients using the Suwa Seriya Ambulance facility given free of charge by the government.
Today all the objections raised by the Government Medical Association were proved wrong in the eyes of the general public through the sheer dedication of the Suwa Seriya staff. The criticism levelled against them gradually diminished and faded away. Today it is more or less acknowledged as one of the most commendable public services imparted under the auspices of the government.
The Covid outbreak compelled the Suwa Seriya team to work tirelessly round the clock to render their relentless services to help the people. It is one occasion where the Suwa Seriya proved its mettle to the critics that it has accomplished an appreciable helping hand to the people in general. (Indian Media)