Embargo said causing malnutrition, deaths

Place: Vavuniya | Courtesy: TamilNet
| Date: 20010119

Four patients suffering from severe malnutrition died last month at the Kilinochchi hospital, medical officials in the Vavuniya said Friday. The hospital is unable to treat scores of people in the district bitten by rabid dogs because it has no anti-rabies vaccine in stock, according to them.

Severe malnutrition is prevalent in the Vanni, particularly among children, due to the decade long economic embargo imposed on the region by successive Sri Lankan regimes. Vaccines and drugs considered essential in the acutely underdeveloped Vanni backwater are generally not available or chronically short in supply due to draconian restrictions by the Sri Lanka army.

Eight adults and 25 severely malnourished children under 12 were admitted to the Kilinochchi hospital during December 2000, according to medical officials.

The office of the regional director of health for the Mullaithivu-Kilinochchi districts has also run out of anti-rabies and hence all patients, including those in critical condition, have to be sent on the long and hazardous journey to the Vavuniya hospital, according to them.

Sending patients in a critical state to Vavuniya is a major problem because of the documents processing required for obtaining security clearance from the SLA to cross the lines. It is especially difficult when sending children in critical condition because obtaining surety and security clearance for parents or close relatives who have to accompany the patients is not an easy process, medical officers said.

Meanwhile, a senior health officer in the north said that there has been alarming increase in infant mortality and the birth of underweight infants recorded in the two hospitals currently functioning in the Mullaithivu district in the Vanni.

"The trend is inevitable as most pregnant mothers in the region who make it to the hospital for childbirth are malnourished or afflicted by disease" the officer pointed out.

Two hundred and ninety one children at the Mallavi hospital and two hundred and fifty six children at the Puthukudiyiruppu hospital were born underweight last year according to him.

Fourteen children died at the Kilnochchi district hospital last year.

Of the 160 adult patients who died at the hospital in 2000, 150 had died within 24 hours of admission, medical officers said.

All the dispensaries and health centers in the remoter parts of the Vanni have been shut down owing to the shortage of drugs and funds caused by the Sri Lankan government imposed embargo. The region's road network is mostly destroyed and transportation is very poor.

Hence, patients are inevitably in a critical condition when they reach the hospital, a health official in Vavuniya said, explaining the reason for the unusually hight number of patients who died within 24 hours after admission to the Kilinochchi hospital.