Sri Lanka provides free universal healthcare. Yes, one of the few countries in the world with free healthcare and education, both of which have been national priorities for decades.

Both the Government and Private sector have been rapidly building and improving infrastructure, quality of services and human capital base in the healthcare sector. For instance, as a part of the National Health Master Plan (2006-2016) the base hospital in Nuwara-Eliya which already had all the major specialties is under reconstruction to include more modern facilities including extra wards and surgical theatres with an upgraded ICU,
blood bank and much more.

Not surprisingly the overall numbers are looking quite good. Here are some statistics from the Central Bank (for 2012) which depict the progress in the Health sector:

  • Government Hospitals: 593
  • Private Hospitals:197
  • Qualified Doctors: 17,129 (a doctor per 1,187 persons)
  • Qualified Nurses: 29,871 (a nurse per 683 persons)
  • Average Life Expectancy: 75 years
  • Infant Mortality: 9.5 per 1000 births (a regional low)

Human Development Index: Trends 1980 to present

Source: International Human Development Indicators

As shown above, Sri Lanka’s HDI rose by 0.9% between 1980 and 2012. This indicates the growth in the well-being of the country over the last couple of years with Sri Lanka ranking 92 out of 187 countries.

Listed below are some of the Human Development Indicators for the country:

    • Human Development Index Ranking: 92
    • Health – Life expectancy at birth (years): 75.1
    • Education – Mean years of schooling (of adults) (years): 9.3
    • Income – GNI per capita in PPP terms (constant 2005 international $) (Constant 2005 international $): 5,170
    • Inequality – Inequality-adjusted HDI value: 0.607
    • Poverty – Multidimensional poverty index (%):0.021
    • Gender – Gender Inequality Index, value: 0.402
    • Sustainability – Carbon dioxide emissions per capita (tonnes):0.6
    • Demography – Population, total both sexes (thousands): 21,223.6
    • Composite indices – Non-income HDI value: 0.792
    • Innovation and technology – Fixed and mobile telephone subscribers (per 100 people): 100.4
    • Trade, economy and income – Income index: 0.582

Source: International Human Development Indicators


Accessing healthcare

Sri Lanka has a unique healthcare system where one can go directly to the hospital (government or private), to the family GP or directly see a specialist – with no reference from a 3rd party, something most of you may have not been aware of up until now.

On that note, no doubt most of you travelling to the country after a long stay away or for the very first time will have concerns. How much does health care cost on average? How do I go about getting insurance? What if there is an emergency? What and how serious is Dengue? to name but a few.

Rest assured, we’ve shared some of the most important details regarding local healthcare with you in this section.

What to do when you are ill?

An apple a day very rarely keeps the doctor away for long periods of time, given the hectic lifestyles most of us lead. Whilst household remedies often work on the occasional bout of flu a visit to the doctor/hospital will be inevitable in the long run and that’s no different
when you are in Sri Lanka.

Public Sector healthcare:

OPD facilities are readily available in public (general) hospitals situated in major towns and cities, with laboratory and radiology facilities common in most. Widely anything can be dealt with in the teaching hospitals in Colombo, Colombo South, Colombo North, Kandy/Peradeniya, Galle and Jaffna. All doctors and nurses in the government hospitals are qualified and trained, with some of the most experienced staff working at the
teaching hospitals.

For emergencies, especially accidents and (dog bites etc), it is highly recommended to go directly to General hospital accident services as they are equipped with the staff and facilities to handle emergencies. In most cases of serious accidents, private hospitals refer patients to General hospitals. This is mostly due to the high investment in equipment and staff training in the public healthcare sector.

The State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) whose retail sales are done via “OsuSala” is a one stop shop for medicines. OsuSala has outlets in all major towns and cities in the country and is the place where you can buy most high value items and is guaranteed of finding any drug. Given that it is state owned, drugs are available on prescription at the most reasonable price. Given the island wide network of Osusala and it having the capability of sourcing specialised medicine, they have hospitable services of tracking the medicine in the available store and try to deliver it to the store nearest to you.Of course given the high demand for Osu sala drugs due to availability, price and checks against prescriptions it does take a little time. The SPC website lists its outlets across the country.

There are also many other large and reliable privately owned pharmacies in the country especially in the big cities. As is always the case, prescriptions are required for certain groups of drugs.

Private Sector Healthcare

This mode of healthcare is popular with both expatriates and Sri Lankans returning to the country; many of whom will always commend the level of care received, for a fraction of the cost incurred on similar procedures if treated abroad.

However, it is generally limited to the major cities. While the most widely acknowledged being in Colombo and its suburbs, mainly due to being around for longer, many new private hospitals have opened across the country due to rising income of people and demand for private healthcare. Afterall there are luxurious that can be gotten for a price.

Across the board you can consult a specialist (most of whom have had their post graduate qualifications abroad – primarily in the UK and USA) in almost any medical category for approximately LKR 1,500-2,000 (USD $ 12-15) without formal introduction from a GP, and the waiting time are significantly less if at all. A GP’s consultation fees are slightly lower in comparison.

Other expenses incurred will vary within each hospital based on procedures involved and seniority/experience of the medical practitioners consulted. These hospitals are also well equipped with modern pharmaceutical, laboratory, radiology, surgical and emergency facilities amongst other things.

Appointments can be easily booked via direct channeling and/or e-channeling methods

Some of the most well known of these institutions have been listed below :

Dental Care

Public and private dental care is also well established in Sri Lanka. While dental care is exorbitant in other countries, Sri Lanka has very high quality public for free and private dental care at relatively low costs. While all general and base hospitals have dental care unit, the Dental Institutes in Colombo and Peradeniya provide even very advanced services for free.

This ranges from the most basic tooth extraction to getting your kid’s braces to a root filling done is hardly of any hassle. On average, you can get a tooth extraction done for LKR 2,000-3,000 (USD $ 15-24) at a private dental care while its free at the government dental care units, whilst cosmetic dental surgery is more expensive (but literally half the cost of what you would spend in developed countries).


In case of an emergency, organizations with trained medical staff are available in major cities. Medi-Calls is one of the most acknowledged emergency services in Colombo.

Medical Insurance

A wide variety of options and schemes are available with different insurance providers and we’ve listed some of the well known options below:

Additionally, some private sector organizations also provide medical insurance for their employees (which can also include coverage for an employee’s parents/spouse); benefits which will vary based on the company, nature of employment and insurance provider


Ayurveda is a form of traditional medicine practiced in the Indian subcontinent including Sri Lanka. This tends to be popular amongst people seeking alternatives to western medication for a variety of ailments ranging from fractures and sprains to colds and migraine.

Some of these Ayurvedic methods are also employed in spas and herbal healthcare centres situated in various tourist hotspots. However, please be advised that remedies for specific ailments should be sought on the guidance of a qualified practitioner (you can check on registered physicians from the Department of Ayurvedic Commissioner – link); preferably someone recommended to you via a known party

Common diseases, not so common diseases and precautionary measures


A mosquito borne disease is unfortunately still prevalent in the country and affects both children and adults . However, Dengue Prevention Programmes have been launched island wide, enabling communities and healthcare officials to deal with this much more effectively over the years. As such, there is no necessity for fear or alarm, providing you are well informed regarding the spread and nature of the illness, and seek proper medical assistance in the event a patient is diagnosed with Dengue.


It’s really difficult to die of Malaria, another mosquito borne disease which is literally not heard of now.

Safe drinking water

Sri Lanka is a country blessed with safe drinking water, with the greater part of the country having natural spring water and the government investing heavily on safe drinking pipe-borne water offered at concessional rates or for free in public places. Health practices inculcated in people in recent times have promoted drinking boiled and bottled water as well. If you feel that the water you drink you be contaminated you have the option of drinking bottled water which available island wide or carrying water from home. However the quality of water changes with the terrain. So how safe you want to make your water is a personal choice.

The National Water Supply and Drainage Board lists its policy on clean and safe drinking water standards in its website. You may review the policy here. The website also contains other articles on the water sector in Sri Lanka.


If you are prone to nut/food colouring allergies please check the content of packaged/canned food purchased prior to consumption. Note that these do not usually contain other explicit warnings. However increasingly with more expats in the market and more exposure to international standards companies are becoming more sensitive to such concerns.

Most common cause of death amongst nonresidents

Please note drowning is the most common cause of death amongst nonresidents, road accidents being next. These are bigger acute killers than malaria or dengue, and lifestyle carelessness is the biggest chronic threat.