A file image of newly ordained Buddhist monks praying at a ceremony marking their entry into priesthood in Colombo on June 15, 2016. (Photo: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP)
The Sri Lankan government is to launch the Buduput Suraksha Health Insurance program for some 15,000 Buddhist monks in the country.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said the initial donation of 40 million rupees (US$217,000) will come from the Buddha Sasana Fund. In addition, the government will contribute 50 million rupees.
Rajapaksa, who heads the Ministry of Buddhasasana and Religious and Cultural Affairs, has issued instructions to make the necessary arrangements to upgrade the fund.
Sri Lanka has about 6,000 Buddhist monasteries with about 15,000 monks.
Ayoma Wasalathanthri, 53, a Buddhist laywoman from Pannala, said elderly monks struggle to find money for their medication.
The government will also reduce the age limit for medical fees and care provided for monks, send 100 monks for Chinese-language training in China once Covid-19 is under control, and initiate Tamil-language training for monks.
In addition, the state will increase the number of scholarships for novices from 800 to 1,500 and raise the scholarship from 750 to 1,000 rupees. Finally, rest houses attached to Buddhist temples will no longer charge fees.
A senior Catholic priest from Colombo Archdiocese said the government does not provide insurance coverage for priests but the diocese takes care of them.
"I’ve visited a doctor every week for the last two or three years but my diocese takes care of all my treatments," said the priest, referring to the challenge of raising funds during the Covid era.
"The archdiocese has spent about 79 million rupees for the treatment of priests from 2018 to 2019."
Many parishes look after their priests with parish funds.
A Hindu priest from Trincomalee, northeast Sri Lanka, said they do not have a government insurance scheme.
"It would be very helpful if we also had such a scheme since we have not saved such money as we get older and fall sick. Our only hope is that our faithful will take care of us," he said.
Buddhists represent 70 percent of Sri Lanka's population of 21 million, while Muslims account for 10 percent and Christians 7 percent.