Though Sri Lanka boasts of having a literacy rate of more than 90 percent and a free education system open to all, in low income areas of the country 30 percent of the children do not go to schools due to poverty.
Prof. Shanthi Mendis, Senior Advisor on Cardiovascular Diseases at the World Health Organisation speaking at the inauguration of the 28th Scientific sessions of the Kandy Society of Medicine recently revealed that a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line and in some districts, the poverty rate is above one third,.
She said that Sri Lanka's Human Development Index being 0.77 ranked 91 among 175 countries in the world. Only some poverty indicators such as life expectancy, adult literacy, school enrolment and GDP are taken into consideration in calculating the index, while many other indicators of poverty such as housing, water and sanitation which contribute to the quality of life are not taken into account when calculating the Human Development Index, the Professor pointed out.
"As you see here, although we are living in the 21st Century a substantial number of people in some provinces do not have access to basic amenities such as safe drinking water, hygienic toilet facilities and electricity".
"We have now completed a survey in ten countries including Sri Lanka to get more information on affordability of medicine," Prof. Mendis said adding that according to the survey results six days wages of an average Sri Lankan would be required to purchase some brands of insulin and even aspirin are very expensive when sold as branded products.
Prof. Mendis said that poverty being the human condition that impinges on one third of the world population causes at least 20,000 deaths a day worldwide.
It sprouted from the root cause of global inequality, Poverty affects at least 2 billion people and prevents the 21 century medical advances reaching the sick, she said.
Every cow in the European Union is subsidised at the rate of US$ 2.50 a day which is more than what 75% of Africans have to live on, she said.
"These subsidies hurt the developing world. European farmers produce more food than what can be consumed by their markets and excess are sold in the world market at a cost below production," Prof Mendis said.
She said that farmers in the poor countries could not compete with these low prices and consequently our dairy industry does not develop because we import most of our milk powder, she said.
For almost 40 years the UN has been requesting rich countries to give 0.7% of their gross national product each year as foreign aid. Prof. Mendis noted
"In the last meeting of the G8 countries at the Glendale in Scotland, debt relief and more overseas aid were promised again" she said. But most rich countries do not honour this commitment, except Scandinavians, Prof. Mendis added.