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MSF in Sri Lanka, 2002
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Health needs remain high even as war abates
The signing of a ceasefire between the government and the rebel Tamil Tigers in February 2002, and the scheduled start of peace talks, have raised hopes that Sri Lanka's civil war may finally be over. An embargo on materials being sent to the north – including medicines – has been lifted; the main road into the Jaffna peninsula has been reopened; and those displaced by the war have started returning to their homes. Nevertheless, after nearly 20 years of war, health needs remain high and health staff are lacking. MSF continues to provide medical assistance, with a strong focus on people displaced by the war. It has eight projects ongoing, principally in the north and northeast.
In Vavuniya, in addition to providing surgery facilities, MSF helped establish protocols for the disposal of medical and other waste. In 2001, MSF surveyed the psychosocial problems present in camps for the internally displaced and found very high levels of trauma. Many people had seen acts of war or the deaths of friends and family; many had been displaced repeatedly. MSF now provides counseling and psycho-educational support in the camps.
In Mallavi, Point Pedro on the Jaffna peninsula and Batticaloa, MSF surgeons work in public hospitals. Each month, MSF teams carry out an average of 60 major surgeries in Batticaloa, 30% of which are emergencies; 132 major surgeries in Mallavi, 65% of them emergencies; and 45 major surgeries in Point Pedro, 50% of them emergencies. MSF also offers basic care to people in outlying war-affected areas near these cities and towns, and monitors the health needs of about 6,000 internally displaced people in Jaffna.
Mother and child health care is an important part of many MSF projects in Sri Lanka. In Puttukkudiyiruppu, MSF trains community health staff in prenatal and well-baby clinics and emergency obstetrical and gynecological care in the hospital. At Jaffna Teaching Hospital, each month 650 children are admitted to the pediatric ward, where two MSF pediatricians work. In Point Pedro, three MSF doctors provide gynecological and obstetrical care and surgery.
MSF began working in Sri Lanka in 1986.