Critical Shortage of Medicines in Northern Sri Lanka

MSF Urges Government to Expedite Transport

Colombo/New York, April 17, 2000 — The emergency medical organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) today called upon the government of Sri Lanka to allow the re-supply of urgently needed essential medicines to the northern region of the country. Over the past three months, drug supplies have become drastically depleted in the war-torn Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts and attempts by humanitarian agencies to renew stocks have been unsuccessful.

On two occasions within the last week, security forces have prevented MSF from transporting drugs and medical supplies through the Forward Defense Lines to Mallavi Hospital in Mullaitivu district. Three months of supplies from the Government Ministry of Health are still awaiting approval and transportation into the northern region.

"The shortage of medications has become so critical that patients are being turned away from hospitals and clinics without receiving the necessary treatment," says Isabel Simpson, MSF Head of Mission in Sri Lanka. "We are facing a situation where clinics and hospitals have closed or are no longer accepting patients because they cannot provide treatment for these civilians, many of whom are women and children."

At Mallavi Hospital, over 800 patients have left the hospital in the past month without receiving any medication. Many of these patients suffer from chronic debilitating diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, cardiac problems, and epilepsy. Every day without medication increases the risk that their conditions seriously deteriorate or even become fatal. Essential drugs for the treatment of malaria are also in extremely short supply, as well as basic essential medicines such as Paracetamol, antibiotics, and pediatric medications.

MSF urges the Sri Lankan government and the Ministry of Defense to urgently consider the health status of the civilian population in these districts and expedite the transport of medical supplies into these areas without further delay.

MSF volunteers have been providing assistance to the civilian population and victims of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka since 1986. Currently, MSF is running projects in: Jaffna Teaching Hospital (JTH) with provision of 2 pediatricians and a midwife and will assist in the laboratory of JTH. In Kyats and Chavakachcheri, MSF runs pediatric clinics, in Point Pedro there is a surgical team comprising a surgeon, anesthesiologist, OT nurse and medical doctor, as at present there are no fully qualified doctors in Point Pedro Hospital. In Vavuniya, MSF provides a surgeon and is conducting an evaluation to improve surgical care in Vavuniya Hospital. In Madhu, a doctor, midwife, nurse, and logistician provide care to assist the displaced populations of Madhu and Tatchanamadhu, and ensure referral of patients to Vavuniya or other hospitals.

In Murunkan Hospital, an MSF physician and nurse are present to improve the quality of care in the hospital and a logistician to improve the basic facilities of the hospital, notably in the areas of hygiene and sterilization. Mobile clinics are also carried out in remote areas of Mannar District. In Batticaloa, there is a project of surgical assistance with two surgeons and an OT nurse to provide rehabilitation of the operating theater and a mobile team which conducts clinics in government and LTTE controlled areas of the district with difficult access to existing health structures. In Mallavi, MSF provides surgical, pediatric, and obstetric/gynecology services with the provision of a surgeon, anesthesiologist, pediatrician, obstetrician, nurse, and logistician. In Puthukkudiyiruppu, an MSF physician and nurse work in ante-natal and well-baby clinics to support community health staff. There are a total of 46 international volunteers and 140 national staff working with MSF in Sri Lanka.