Interview: Dr Paul McMaster, MSF surgical advisor on surgical work in northern Sri Lanka

Transcript: There is a little girl, she is about seven or eight and she has lost her leg. She is not sure where her parents are and she was very upset when we talked to her. One of the things the nurses said is that little girls dance in Sri Lanka; that is something they do, they learn traditional dancing. And I promised her that she’d dance again and really our task is to see that that will happen, one day. She’ll have to heal her wounds; she’ll have to get an artificial leg, which will be quite difficult for her in Sri Lanka. But just promising her that one-day she’ll dance again, I take that with me. Between April 20 and May 8, the Ministry of Health and MSF surgical teams in Vavuniya hospital performed 963 surgeries. Over 90 percent of those were for injuries related to the conflict. The last week in the hospital there has been quite a dramatic change. We’ve been sending out of the hospital large number of patients, we’ve been catching up with the backlog of patients from the previous week and beginning the discharge of patients. So what that’s meant is a lot of operations, a lot of them fairly minor. The team has been in theatre quite a lot. We’ve had a Sri Lankan team working with us and really beginning to clear all the patients lying on the floor and corridors, getting them properly treated, into plasters, into beds and some of them discharged as well. We now have about 380 surgical patients, the first time we have been under the 400 mark since I arrived. So a lot of patients have been discharged I have been making visits to camps, visits to where patients will go in the future, and talking to ministry of health and doctors about how we can look after them. Patients have gone to the camps with plasters on their arms and with treatments for their legs that need supervision, a lot of amputations. Some patients have lost both their legs and arms and we are trying to see how we can start to mobilise them. So I hope I leave behind a team that is well organised, well prepared, a hospital that is certainly changed the way it works a little bit and I hope that will help in the coming weeks. One is the little boy who had severe injuries from the blast and he was lying in casualty with all the mayhem that was going on and he was being looked after by his big brother who was nine, in the middle of all this. And the older brother was just quietly getting him a little drink of water every now and again and in a way showing tremendous bravery... and that will stay with me a long time. Dr Paul McMaster left Vavuniya on May 8. The MSF surgical team, with three surgeons and one operating theatre nurse, continue to work in Vavuniya hospital.