In 2018, when social worker Uduwela Arachchige Ariyasena first attended a Transparency International Sri Lanka awareness workshop on right to information laws, he wasn’t sure what to expect. He left with important knowledge that would enable his community to have regular access to primary health care.
Until October that year, the Samadhigama Base Hospital, located in a remote part of the Hambantota district in Sri Lanka’s deep south, was only operational two days of the week, due to a shortage of doctors. As a result, residents from more than five villages in the area were forced to travel long distances to access basic health care on the days the hospital was closed.
The closest health care provider on those days was the Ambalantota Hospital, 10 kilometres away. The lack of available transport made this a serious problem, especially in emergencies.
After the workshop, Mr. Ariyasena filed a right to information application with the Office of the Director of Health Services in the Hambantota District. He asked: “What steps has your office taken to ensure that a resident doctor is assigned to the Samadhigama base hospital?” He also asked for certified copies of all relevant documentation.
Mr. Ariyasena received a response to his application confirming that while the Samadhigama Hospital is intended as a primary medical care unit on a day-to- day basis, the shortage of doctors had prevented it from fulfilling this function. He was also informed that a doctor from the Tangalle Base Hospital had been assigned to the position in 2016, but had been unable to assume his duties in Samadhigama due to the chronic shortage of staff in Tangalle.
Soon after Mr. Ariyasena had established that the Samadhigama Hospital was supposed to be operational on a daily basis, Transparency International Sri Lanka held meetings between the residents of the area and relevant public officials to discuss how to solve the problem.
The residents presented the information from the right to information request and the officials had to accept that six days a week, operation of the hospital was mandatory under state regulations. The fact that this was now public knowledge put pressure on them to act.
As a result, the Samadhigama Base Hospital is now open six days a week, with a resident doctor and assigned medical staff.
This blog post is an extract from Transparency International’s publication, Real Lives, Real Stories: The Power Of Information In Asia Pacific. It contains stories of citizens from ten countries across the Asia Pacific region who have used their right to information to demand accountability from their governments. Read the other stories.
We would like to thank Transparency International Sri Lanka for writing and sharing this story.
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