by Arthur Wamanan
‘Suththam Sugam tharum’ (Cleanliness gives good health) is an age old Tamil adage that underscores the importance of a healthy life.
Cleanliness is an important aspect for a healthy environment. Healthcare in Jaffna has gone through several phases during the war and after.Healthcare system in the North is still finding its feet after a gruesome war. People have demanded maximum healthcare facilities as a direct and indirect result of the war.
Almost all the people in the peninsula were affected in various ways due to continuous fighting and the security situation that prevailed owing to the war. Therefore, healthcare was a primary need of the region. It continues to be so, despite the end of the war.
Access to basic medical and healthcare facilities have increased due to free flow of transportation facilities and the improved security situation. “There was a time when we could not buy even a panadol. There were several restrictions at that time. We had to depend on remedies that were available at home,” says Meenatchi, a resident in Jaffna in her early sixties.
Having lived through the war, Meenatchi says that the situation was bad a mere five years ago. “When the A9 road was closed for the last time, we were helpless because medical supplies were once again in short”.
For administrative reasons, the district is divided into 15 Divisional Secretaries and 11 Ministry of Health (MOH) divisions. However, only seven divisions are in a position to function. According to the Jaffna Regional Directorate of Health Services (RDHS), the shortage of resources and other issues have hampered health services in the remaining four divisions, forcing residents to travel to other areas.
Post war, Jaffna’s health concerns have been mostly regarding dengue prevention. Jaffna RDHS has initiated a massive programme to eradicate dengue in the peninsula and has joined hands with other government and non-governmental organizations to curb the spread of the disease.
The spread of dengue had been a concern in the peninsula after the roads were open to the public after the war. Health officials pointed out that the massive influx of people from all parts of the country had aggravated the situation.
Thousands of people from around the country traveled to the North following the opening of the A9 road. Health officials said the heavy presence of civilians in a short span of time resulted in the rapid spread of dengue owing to poor hygiene conditions.
The heavy usage of plastic and polythene materials and the lack of proper mechanism to address the issue had only worsened the situation. The military too have been deployed to clean mosquito breeding grounds in and around town. Health officials continue to conduct awareness programmes among residents. Steps have also been taken to address the issue at school level, with the participation of students.
In recent times, Jaffna has seen a rise in the number of cancer patients. According to Oncologist of the Jaffna Teaching Hospital Dr. N. Jayakumaran, about 1200- 1500 cancer patients come for treatment annually in Jaffna District. He said the number of cancer patients had rapidly increased during the past couple of years owing to excessive usage of chemical fertilizers. He said more than 1300 patients were diagnosed with cancer in Jaffna last year.
Statistics indicated that 748, 927 and 1008 cancer patients were detected in 2008, 2009 and 2010 respectively. Despite the improving health conditions, the prevalent situation indicates that more needs to be done to ensure better health facilities for the people in the peninsula.
When considering health facilities in Jaffna District, Teaching Hospital Jaffna is the only tertiary care institution which comes under the administration of Central Ministry of Health. All others are curative institutions come under the purview of Regional Director of Health Services, Jaffna. These institutions are forming a network in three levels, such as:
Category of Institutions – Numbers
Base Hospitals ( Type A & B ) – 4
Divisional Hospitals- 22
Primary Medical Care Unit – 16
In addition to the above hospitals, Cancer Unit, Tellippalai and Chest Clinic Jaffna are functioning under the administration of Regional Director of Health Services.In the preventive sector under each MOH there are clinic centers which provide mainly maternal and child Healthcare services.
In addition to the Western system of medicine, Ayurvedic systems are also functioning in the District of Jaffna under supervision of Regional Director of Health Services.
Under Ayurvedic system there are 1 District Ayurvedic Hospital, 2 rural ayurvedic Hospitals and 09 Ayurvedic central dispensaries. In addition, there are 30 free ayurvedic dispensaries under Local Governments.Regional Director of Health Services is in charge of all promotive, Preventive, Curative & Rehabilitative health activities in the district.
Under him Heads of Institutions namely Medical Superintendent, District Medical Officers, Medical Officers in charge and Medical Officer of Health are functioning.Regional Medical Officer, Anti Malaria Campaign, Regional Epidemiologist and Medical Officer/ Maternal & Child Health, Medical Officer, Planning are also functioning under RDHS to assist him in respective fields. Courtesy: The Nation