Colombo doctors to investigate outbreak of meningitis, encephalitis in Vavuniyaa

[TamilNet, Sunday, 12 July 2009, 17:29 GMT]
Six medical officers from Colombo are scheduled to visit IDP camps which are described as internment camps by human rights agencies in Vavuniya tomorrow to investigate a suspected outbreak of meningitis and encephalitis, reported from the Vavuniyaa General Hospital. Meanwhile the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) has charged that a severe shortage of nurses and pharmacists in the Vavuniyaa camps is compounding health problems there.

Reports further say while 65 adults are suffering from either one of the ailments, 35 have died so far. Several displaced children at the Vavuniyaa General Hospital too are suspected to be suffering from the two illnesses.

More than 1200 IDPs are receiving treatment at the Vavuniyaa Hospital, for different ailments, currently.

The Health Ministry could not confirm the number of deaths, however a high ranking official in Colombo who did not want to be quoted admitted that the fatality rate in cases such as meningitis is high as it affects the brain. "Fatalities are high in such cases, but there is nothing to be alarmed about these figures as they are normal when compared with the population of IDPs we are dealing with," he said. The Ministry official also said the problem has been in existence in the camps over the past three to four months, according to Colombo media reports.

“This issue has been going on for some time now but the hospital does not have the expertise to diagnose the cause. The deaths occurred during the past three to four months,” he said.

“The medicines are quite expensive but nevertheless we have taken steps to send the needed supplies,” he said. According to this ministry official there are only 20 nurses serving all the camps and 80 doctors on duty at the medical centres.

“There were no nurses yesterday. We only saw one nurse and she too came from outside with a team of doctors. We need about 120 doctors and at least 300 nurses in the camps. At the Chettikulam hospital there are 130 children receiving treatment and there is only one doctor but no nurses. How can one doctor look after all the patients?” asked Dr. Upul Gunasekara, spokesperson of the GMOA. The Director of IDP Health Care heading the IDP Health Coordination Centre at Chettikulam, Dr. Hemantha Herath admitted that they were short of staff at the health centres. According to him the problem is mainly during the day, as nurses and doctors are brought from other hospitals for the night shifts.

The ministry is planning to send a batch of 300, recently qualified nurses to the camps in two weeks time. “We are planning to give permanent appointments to these nurses in hospitals in Vavuniya, Mannar, Chettikulam and the IDP camps. Until then we will be sending small batches of nurses to serve in the area,” Dr. Ajith Mendis the Director General of Health told Colombo media.

The Ministry also dismissed allegations that there was insufficient number of pharmacists working in the camps.

However the GMOA alleges that the Ministry had no clear plan on how to handle the growing crisis at the camps.” The ministry has no plans to send nurses to these camps and the people are just criticizing the doctors who are working there. The doctors are frustrated with the situation,” Dr. Gunasekara said.

He also alleged there were severe lapses in the administration of health matters at the IDP camps. According to Dr. Gunasekara the doctors working at the IDP camps are not paid overtime, although doctors working in area hospitals are paid. Further, he claimed that there were no proper lodging facilities for the IDP camp doctors although the GMOA had raised the issue many times.

“These doctors have not visited their families in weeks as they live in the area and serve the people. But they do not even receive any overtime payment,” he said.

Meanwhile the Regional Director of Health Services (RDHS) of Vavuniyaa Dr. M. Mahendran said they were facing a problem of insufficient funds to make overtime payments to these doctors.” We have exceeded the provincial budget for health. I have been advised by the ministry to pay only four hours of the seven hours of overtime the doctors’ work. I have to stick to these instructions,” he said.


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