MSF Warns of Medical Emergency in Northern Sri Lanka

Colombo/New York, April 26, 2000 — Authorities continue blocking shipment of essential medical supplies of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) into the war-torn north of Sri Lanka. Because of a sudden change in the procedure for approval and transportation of medicines, it will take another month before the supplies can go through. MSF warns of a medical emergency in the northern districts. The emergency medical relief organization once again calls on the government of Sri Lanka to expedite the transport of medical supplies into the north without further delay.

"Despite urgent appeals to government officials last week and despite the oral assurances of military officials, our medical supplies remain blocked,"says Isabel Simpson, MSF Head of Mission in Sri Lanka. "Our supplies of antibiotics, pain relief drugs, oxygen and anaesthetics in the projects in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu are becoming dangerously low. In addition, the list of approved drugs has been reduced from 186 items to only 81. Surgical supplies have also been restricted."

Mallavi Hospital reflects the deterioration in the situation over the past weeks. Typically MSF carries out 25 major surgical procedures per week. In the last few days, 8 surgical patients, including two men over 60 years of age and two children under 14 years, have been sent home without analgesic treatment. Three pregnant mothers have been admitted to the maternity ward with serious complications awaiting further treatment, one due to lack of chloroquine medication for malaria. There has also been an increase in chronic disease admissions for people suffering from complications due to lack of regular medication. These patients include 3 diabetics, 5 asthmatics, an epileptic and a vascular disease patient who suffered a stroke. More than 25 patients have been admitted suffering from malaria or fever and have also been unable to receive treatment.

Humanitarian convoys carrying medical supplies are generally permitted to cross the Forward Defence Lines twice a week. In the past few weeks, MSF supplies have been consistently turned away from the convoy. The Ministry of Health has not sent medical stocks to the north of the country since the beginning of 2000, except for one cargo to Kilinochchi on April 21, with quantities too small and restricted to alleviate the situation for the population.

MSF has been present in Sri Lanka since 1986, providing assistance to the civilian victims of the armed conflict, displaced persons, and others lacking adequate health care. Currently there are 46 international and 140 Sri Lankan staff working with the organization. MSF works in Jaffna, Kyats, Chavakachcheri, Point Pedro, Vavuniya, Madhu, Murunkan, Mannar, Batticaloa, Malavi, and Puthukkudiyiruppu.