State hospitals were paralyzed Friday as Sri Lankan doctors went on strike to demand that a private medical university be shut down, saying it could jeopardize health care standards in the island nation.
The doctors were still tending to patients needing emergency treatment or critical care, as well as children and pregnant women. Cancer hospitals and kidney disease treatment units were also still running.
On Wednesday, students stormed Sri Lanka’s Health Ministry to demand the private university be abolished, and were met by police swinging batons and using tear gas and water cannons. Dozens of students were injured.
Doctors from state-run hospitals were urging the government to take action against those who ordered police to crack down on the protesting students.
The doctors vowed to continue their strike until the government complied with their demands, according to Dr. Haritha Aluthge, spokesman for the Government Medical Officers Association.
The private South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine has been the center of controversy since its establishment in 2008. It is the only private university training medical students in Sri Lanka, where health care experts are typically trained in state-run schools.
Students at state-run schools and government doctors argue that the private school does not meet the country’s educational standards, which the private school denies.
Doctors and students also say the existence of the private school could jeopardize the country’s decadeslong tradition of offering health care and education for free.
Students from the school’s first graduating class have been embroiled in a legal battle to be allowed to practice medicine, after the government denied them certification as doctors.
Another private medical university opened in the 1980s also sparked student protests, leading the government to purchase it.