Full-fledged Hospital at Mullaitheevu Functions at Full Capacity

By Shanika SRIYANANDA in Mullaitheevu

It was 11 am, the OPD of the District General Hospital Mullaitheevu was crowded. People from all walks of life and all corners of the district get treatment from the hospital. Located close to the A-34 Highway, the hospital, damaged by the LTTE, has now turned into a fully-fledged hospital with the latest medical equipment and more treatment facilities.

Wasantharaja Kiruthika, an employee of the Bank of Ceylon was in the OPD to get a urine test done. The 22-year-old who is an asthmatic is one among those who are happy as the hospital is being developed with the latest medical facilities. She had gone to Mancholai base hospital when the district was under the LTTE control as this hospital was mainly used by the LTTE to treat their cadres and their families.

Majority of poor people didn’t have access to the hospital as the LTTE wanted it to be used for LTTE cadres. “ During those days there were no improved medical facilities”, she said.

Kirupthika is among thousands of people in Mullaitheevu who clamour for specialised medical care in the hospital, where there is a severe dearth of consultant doctors. Specialists who are transferred to the hospital have a short stint as they want a posting to a hospital where they have more comfortable lives.

It is noteworthy, to write about how the 24 young doctors, including 19 Sinhalese,3 Tamils and 2 Muslims provide medical care in all sections of the hospital.

Dr. Mahendraraja Gajendran

Dr Kasun Bandara

Kiruthika said, since a few people are conversant in Sinhala and English, it is easy for them to communicate with doctors when they are Tamils. “At the moment we manage to talk to them and speak to them in halting English and Sinhala. It helps us learn the two languages at least a little”, she said.

Recalling the terror-filled days under LTTE control, she said they never went to the hospital during those days as the LTTE were kidnapping youth and children. “We live peacefully now and doctors are there at any time to treat us.

They are dedicated and committed to treat us”, Kiruthika said, adding that people in Mullaitheevu are happy that their villages are being developed with infrastructure facilities like roads, which are getting wider and being tarred, for the first time in their lives.

Two young doctors, Kasun Bandara and Mahendraraja Gajendran, echoing the same sentiments, requested more Tamil doctors to serve the people of Mullaitheevu. “Since my appointment to this hospital in January 2010 we are witnessing the development taking place in the hospital.
When I came here there were no direct buses to Colombo and also to other areas but today there are buses daily to Tangalle, Anuradhapura and Amparai”, Dr. Bandara, an old Royalist from Dehiwala, said.

At present there are 24 doctors including three consultants in Paediatric, Gynaecology and Surgery. There are three Tamil doctors and two Muslim doctors and the rest are Sinhalese doctors.

“Now we are happy as we got three Consultants and hope they will stay here for some time”, they said adding that Consultants who came earlier returned to their places of interest citing ‘lack of facilities’ in the district.

The young doctors who are providing better health care for over nearly two years since the hospital was re-constructed after the LTTE destroyed it, said they need guidance from Consultants to handle critical cases.

The two ambulances in the hospital are busy throughout the day transporting patients in critical condition to Vavuniya or Jaffna hospitals. As junior doctors, they said, they are reluctant to take some decisions while treating critically ill patients admitted to the hospital. “We can’t handle Caesarean cases, patient who suffer heart attacks, appendicitis and other emergency cases like accidents due to the non availability of Consultants in the hospital”, they said.

“These people are poor and most of the families there have only one parent to look after the children. We have to transfer the critically ill patients to Vavuniya or Jaffna hospitals for tertiary care. When one in the family is critically ill, the single parent can’t afford to go with the patient as there is no one at home to look after the other children. The other issue is they are not financially stable to spend money when they are transferred to other hospitals”, Dr. Gajendran said.

They said the people of Mullaitheevu who suffered for over 30 years due to terrorism are an innocent lot and the majority of them have now realised that the LTTE destroyed their future. “ We don’t treat them as Tamil patients and whoever comes to us we provide our best services to them”.

In January 12, 2009 soldiers of the 59 division took full control of the Hospital, which was destroyed by the LTTE who had taken away all valuable equipment before the army’s capture. The LTTE had built a massive earth bund opposite the hospital and they reached the site through Thanniootru in Mulliyavalai.

The LTTE propaganda machine claimed that advancing troops had launched shell attacks on the hospital but the roof of the main building which had not sustained a single damage was evidence to prove it was false.

But the LTTE had destroyed the children’s park within the hospital premises and had destroyed the doors, windows, fans and air-conditioners before they abandoned the area.

Later in 2010, after the hospital was re-opened, the Army handed over a massive stock of medical equipment and accessories kept by the LTTE. The medical stock, worth more than Rs. 15 million was recovered during the Wanni humanitarian operations. The stock, comprising twenty wheel chairs, complete sets of usable anaesthesia injections, operating tables, trolleys, surgical equipment, sterilisers, surgical beds and many more items were handed over to the hospital to be used.

Dr Bandara said snake bite victims were admitted to the hospital frequently as the forest patches were being cleared for development and also resettling displaced people.

According to doctors they have necessary equipment for the ICU but the ICU is still not functioning due to the lack of staff including an anaesthetist and the nursing staff. A mother who was in the Paediatric Ward with her son said, people were happy as there was no one to snatch their children. “Earlier, there were doctors in this hospital but they were mainly science students who were given a brief training on medicine. They lack knowledge on how to provide quality medical treatment. Many people died as they didn’t get proper treatment. But now we have qualified doctors”, she said.

The doctors said people from villages in Janakapura, Weli Oya, Sampath Nuwara, Nedunkerni were coming to the Mullaitheevu hospital. With a daily attendance of 500 to 600 patients to the OPD and in-house patients to the full bed capacity which is nearly 200 beds, over 70 babies are born in the hospital monthly.

“For five normal deliveries there is one caesarean operation”, said Dr. Bandara, who is staying in the doctors quarters in the hospital premises. He learnt to speak in Tamil when he was doing his internship at the Batticaloa hospital said people were helpful and his patients stop for a while to talk to him when they meet him even in the town, though sometimes he couldn’t remember each and every patient he treated.

Dr Gajendran said treating patients at the hospital gives young doctors experience in medical care. “ We invite young doctors to come and serve here. As doctors we can do a lot to heal their bitter wounds”, he said.

At a time when the Government is taking all efforts to bring reconciliation among all communities everyone must appreciate the silent commitment rendered by these doctors from the South. Reconciliation is not something needed to be done in a big way but every little effort counts in a big way. But… in this process of reconciliation, the Tamils in the North have a greater opportunity to contribute their share towards their own people who are trying to stand on their feet from the rubbles of decades long deadly memories.

“Thamil dactargal yean engalukku vandu sevai seyya marukkurargal? (Why do the Tamil doctors refuse to serve us) Engalukku sevai seyya ithu than tharunam (This is the time for you to help us)”, said Kiruthika.