MSF warns of medical emergency in northern Sri Lanka

PRESS RELEASE: Colombo, 26th April 2000 - Authorities continue blocking shipment of essential medical supplies of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) into the war-torn north of the country. Because of a sudden change in the procedure for approval and transportation of medecines, it will take another month before MSF supplies can go through. MSF warns of a medical emergency in the northern districts. The emergency medical relief organisation once again calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to expedite the transport of medical supplies into the north without further delay.

"Despite urgent appeals to government officials last week and despite the oral assurances of military officials, our medical supplies remain blocked", said Isabel Simpson, MSF's Head of Mission in Sri Lanka. "Our supplies of antibiotics, pain relief drugs, oxygen and anaesthetics in the projects in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu are becoming dangerously low. Even for the treatment of women and children. Next to this the list of approved drugs has been reduced from 186 items to only 81. Surgical supplies have been restricted."

Mallavi Hospital reflects the deterioration in the situation over the past weeks. Typically MSF carries out 25 major surgical procedures per week. In the last few days, eight surgical patients - including two men over 60 years and two children under 14 years - have been sent home without analgesic treatment. Three pregnant mothers have been admitted to maternity ward with serious complications awaiting further treatment, one due to lack of chloroquine medication for malaria. There has also been an increase in chronic disease admissions, suffering from complications due to lack of regular medication. These patients include three diabetics, five asthmatics, an epileptic and a vascular disease patient who suffered a stroke. More than 25 patients have been admitted suffering from malaria or fever, who have also been unable to receive treatment.

Humanitarian convoys carrying medical supplies are generally permitted to cross the Forward Defence Lines twice a week. In the past few weeks MSF's supplies have been consistently turned away from the convoy. The Ministry of Health did not send medical stocks to the north since the beginning of 2000, except for one cargo to Kilinochchi on April 21st, with quantities too small and restricted to alleviate the situation for the population.

MSF in Sri Lanka

MSF has been present in Sri Lanka since 1986, providing assistance to the civilian population and victims of the armed conflict.

Currently, MSF is running projects in Jaffna Teaching Hospital (JTH) with the provision of two paediatricians and a midwife and will assist in the laboratory of JTH. In Kyats and Chavakachcheri, MSF runs paediatric clinics, in Point Pedro there is a surgical team comprising a surgeon, anaesthetist, OT nurse and medical doctor as, at present, there are no fully qualified doctors in Point Pedro Hospital.

In Vavuniya, MSF provides a surgeon and is conducting an evaluation to improve surgical care in Vavuniya Hospital. In Madhu, a doctor, midwife, nurse and logistician provide care to assist the displaced population of Madhu and Tatchanamadhu and ensure referral of patients to Vavuniya or other hospitals. In Murunkan Hospital, MSF has a doctor and nurse to improve the quality of care in the hospital as well as a logistician to improve the basic facilities of the hospital - notably in hygiene and sterilisation.

Mobile clinics are also carried out in remote areas of Mannar District.

In Batticaloa, there is a project of surgical assistance with two surgeons and an OT nurse to provide rehabilitation of the operation theatre and a mobile team which conducts clinics in both government and LTTE controlled areas of the district with difficult access to existing health structures.

In Mallavi, MSF provides surgical, paediatric and obstetric/gynaecology services with the provision of a surgeon, anaesthetist, paediatrician, obstetrician, nurse and logistician. In Puthukkudiyiruppu, MSF works in ante-natal and well-baby clinics to support community health staff with an MSF doctor and nurse.

In total MSF teams in Sri Lanka include 46 expatriates and 140 Sri Lankan national staff.