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IDPs struck by meningitis and encephalitis

[Sunday Times.lk, Monday, 13 July 2009 06:48 No Comment]

GMOA hits out at poor planning by Ministry for health crisis in camps

Displaced-people Six doctors are to visit IDP camps in Vavuniya tomorrow to investigate a suspected outbreak of meningitis and encephalitis, reported from the Vavuniya General Hospital, with the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) charging that a severe shortage of nurses and pharmacists in the camps is compounding health problems there.

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

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

The Health Ministry could not confirm the number of deaths, however a high ranking official 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.

“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. He also said there was no danger of an epidemic breaking out as the cases were reported from the hospital and not from the camps.

“If cases were identified in the camps then there is a heavy risk of an epidemic breaking out. But right now there is nothing to worry about,” he said. According to him the required medicine has been sent to the hospital to treat the suspected cases.

“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 said.

The Ministry also dismissed allegations that there were 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 criticising 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 Vavuniya 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.

According to the GMOA the fuel bill for the ambulances have not been paid and the fuel station has refused to give anymore fuel on credit. Of the three ambulances only one was functioning as the other two did not have fuel.

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