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SRI LANKA: Don't forget healthcare services in east

BATTICALOA, 20 April 2010 (IRIN) - Healthcare services in Sri Lanka's conflict-affected east should not be forgotten as humanitarian agencies focus their efforts on rebuilding the country's north, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

Since the end of the civil war in May 2009, agencies have concentrated on assisting hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Vanni, an area comprising a number of northern districts.

“With the international community focused on the rehabilitation of the Vanni area in the north, support needed for the rehabilitation work in the east will remain difficult,” Edwin Salvador, WHO’s technical officer for emergency humanitarian action, told IRIN.

“As programmes to rebuild public infrastructure, food security and livelihoods have been prioritized ahead of health in the east, delivery of essential services to the people will remain a big challenge,” he added.

Sri Lanka’s war was based on demands by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who fought for an independent Tamil homeland in the country’s north and east.

The Eastern Province was retaken by government troops from the LTTE in July 2007, with more than 200,000 displaced people returning after the conflict, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Recovery and development measures were announced for the area, which suffered heavy damage during the conflict.

But Salvador said shifting funding priorities and a lack of human resources were undermining efforts to provide health care for scattered communities of resettled people.

“International NGO partners, including health partners that had played an important part during the emergency phase during the eastern conflict, have been forced to abandon the east and concentrate on the north due to funding constraints or due to lack of development work experience,” said Salvador.

According to WHO, of the numerous health-related international NGOs initially operating in the east, only the Comité d’Aide Médicale (CAM) remains. It provides mobile medical clinics for resettled communities and support for government mental health programmes.

More rehabilitation needed

Provincial and central health authorities are trying to repair damaged health facilities but only have limited funds to do so, WHO says.

Health facilities, especially those outside major towns, suffered collateral damage during decades of fighting in the east.

“Rehabilitation of damaged health facilities in the east has taken place at a slow pace. This has resulted in [the] resettlement population needing to travel long distances in order to access health services,” said Salvador.

“Mobile clinics and outreach services are in place to provide primary health care services but due to the many [small resettlement areas], it has been difficult to reach all of them through mobile clinics,” he said.

Finding enough health workers to service communities is also a challenge.

“There are also many health posts that remained vacant in the health systems. As a result, doctors and nurses are required to rotate amongst the different health facilities,” he said.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Health & Nutrition, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs


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This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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