Stories

Sanath Kumara, Sri Lanka

Thirty years ago, I was told I would only be able to walk with crutches

“Thirty years ago, I was told I would only be able to walk with crutches.” Sunath Kumara was only 16 when he had an accident and suffered severe injuries to his spinal cord.

Sanath was treated in the Rheumatology and Rehabilitation Hospital in Ragama, Sri Lanka. The hospital is one of the country’s leading facilities for rehabilitation of physically ‘differently abled’ people. It evolved to meet increased needs for rehabilitation after the onset of the civil conflict in the early 1980s resulted in huge numbers of survivors of landmines and improvised explosive devices seeking care.

The hospital’s main goal is to optimize and maintain physical, sensory, intellectual, psychological and social functions. Patients receive care from a team of 350 professionals which include medical staff and speech, occupational and physio therapists. One of the objectives is to enable patients to return to work.

Being an athlete, albeit impaired, not only aided my recovery, it has transformed my life.

As part of his therapy, the staff at the hospital encouraged Sanath to take part in parathletic sports.

“Being an athlete, albeit impaired, not only aided my recovery, it has transformed my life,” he says. Sanath has taken part in the Asian Para Athletic Games both as a power lifter and on the basketball team. He regularly competes in sports events all over Sri Lanka, harvesting a clutch of medals. Wherever he goes, he sees himself as an ambassador for disabled people in sport.

When he’s not competing or training, Sanath works as a mechanic at the rehabilitation hospital repairing wheelchairs for the hospital’s patients. In the hospital’s workshops, ex-patients and hospital staff design and develop artificial devices like prosthetics to assist the movement of ‘differently abled’ people.

Without Sri Lanka’s free healthcare, I would have no idea what would have become of me.

All Sanath’s emergency procedures, surgery and physiotherapy have been paid by the Sri Lankan health system. People with disabilities are among the poorest and most disadvantaged in any Sri Lankan community. Ragama, in which Sanath’s rehabilitation hospital is located, provides services ‘free at the point of delivery’ to people from all corners of the country.

Universal health coverage has been one of the main drivers of Sri Lanka’s remarkable health gains since the health reforms in the 1930s. Policies have ensured widespread easy access to medical services for the whole population, including rural areas.

With support of the World Health Organization, Sri Lanka is developing its ‘Strategic Framework for Sustainable Development of Health’ and ‘Sustainable Health Financing Roadmap for Health’. Both will be key to ensure and sustain equitable financing for health, including increased government health spending. In 2015, Sri Lanka’s government spending for health amounted to around 55% of total expenditure on health in the country.

Free, comprehensive and continuous rehabilitation care is made available to the population almost exclusively by the state. “Without Sri Lanka’s free healthcare, I would have no idea what would have become of me. Sport has helped me and many others overcome our injuries,” Sanath says. He is an inspiration to the other patients, offering them encouragement and advice.

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