WHO Support to Humanitarian Efforts in Sri Lanka

 

Introduction

WHO support to humanitarian efforts in North Sri Lanka has been mainly directed through the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Northern Provincial Ministry of Health. The aim of WHO support is to ensure that everyone has access to adequate and essential health care services whether they are in the Internally Displaced Personnel (IDP) Welfare Centers or in their areas of origin in the Vanni following the Government’s accelerated programme of resettlement.

 

 

What was going on during the past six months?

The provision of health care services is continuing to the remaining 40,000 internally displaced people who are still in the IDP camp of Manik Farm. Providing health care facilities to returnees who are being resettled in their places of origin is a challenge faced by the health authorities as well as the health cluster partners. The resettlement process which started in 2009 was accelerated in the first half of year 2010. This meant that better coordination and more organized efforts were needed to better provide for in the resettlement areas. Disaster Preparedness and Response Unit (DPRU) of the MOH was in the forefront of the operations with the able assistance of WCO.

 

Manik Farm continued to be the only area accommodating displaced people and Cheddikulum Base Hospital continued to be the first point of referral for their patients with Vavuniya District General Hospital as its back up. Poovarasakulum Hospital continued to accommodate patients with infectious diseases. The Mumps outbreak which occurred during the second week of April in Manik Farm had been controlled by the well developed disease surveillance system coupled with the efficient health communication programme to the communities.

WCO continued to support the rehabilitation work of health facilities by the MOH in the Vanni, such as Dharpmapuram and Vaddakachi Hospitals in Kilinochchi. In addition, WCO supported hospitals in Mannar, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts by providing medical equipment and furniture. Ten motorcycles have also been procured to support PHI work in 5 districts of the Vanni. Three hospitals (Mallavi Hospital in Mullaitivu district, Mulankavil Hospital and Kilinochchi Hospital in Killinochchi district were provided with audio visual equipment to strengthen the hospital health education programme .

WCO continued to support the strengthening of human resources working in the resettlement areas by mobilization of additional medical officers, nursing officers, public health inspectors, community support officers for mental health and even health volunteers. In short WCO support was extended to in many different ways in strengthening many different programs such as Disease Surveillance, Curative Services, Mental Health, Health Education, Family Planning, Prevention of Gender Based Violence, Water Quality Testing and strengthening Health Coordination Cluster Mechanism.

 

What were the challenges observed or encountered during the last six months

Resource mobilization was easier during the emergency stages of the humanitarian crisis. However, with the end of emergency phase and transitioning into early recovery and development, “donor interest” and “donor fatigue” had been observed causing difficulties in getting funds to continue rehabilitation activities in the resettlement areas. However an increased interest of developmental agencies such as World Bank and Asian Development Bank had been observed and might be a good option to tap.

Another challenge identified in the health sector is the lack of human resources. Although WHO had been able to support the MOH in providing Medical Assistants and Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) in resettlement areas, such support is not sustainable. The MOH would need to increase efforts and work with the local administration to permanently assign medical doctors, nurses and other medical staff with proper accommodation facilities to host them in the resettlement areas.

 

What will be the next step since no emergency now in the North?

WCO will continue to support sustainable development in North and even in the East. With the MOH, health need and gaps will be identified and addressed accordingly. WCO will continue to lead the health cluster coordination in Colombo and in Vavuniya and will continue to support the capacity building of health staff including health administrators and strengthen the health system. Although DPRU was successful in catering to the health needs of the people during the emergency situation, the rebuilding of the health system in Northern Province will need to be led by the Management, Development and Planning Unit (MDPU) in the central MOH, with support from the Northern Provincial Health Ministry and the Regional Directors of Health Services in the resettlement areas well. Through their coordinated efforts, health services shall be available to the resettlement population and the host population as well.

 

What was the assistance provided by WCO during the recent flash floods in Sri Lanka

Hundreds of thousands of persons were affected by the heavy rains experienced during the month of May 2010 in Sri Lanka. The heavy showers along with lightning, thunder storms resulted in flash floods, high levels of water, strong wind and landslides. More than 600,000 persons (141,000 families) were affected including some 15,000 persons who were displaced due to some of the worst rains on record. WHO was able to respond rapidly and supported the MOH surge capacity by providing US$ 15,000 to respond to the most affected districts – Kalutara, Gampaha, Colombo, Matara, Galle and Puttalam. WCO also provided 60,000 chlorine tablets to the MOH to be used for flood relief measures while we continued to provide necessary technical support to the Regional Director of Health Services in the Gampaha district and the MOH in the control of communicable diseases. Health education activities of the displaced population were part and parcel of the MOH activities in their control of communicable diseases by boosting public awareness on water borne diseases.

 

What are the preparative measures for any form of emergencies which Sri Lanka may encounter like flash floods/landslides/draughts or even conflict in the future?

WCO will help MOH in finalizing the Emergency Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) of the health sector. In addition, WHO will also continue to support the Public Health Emergency Management and Preparedness (PHEMAP) training courses in the University of Perandeniya, to supplement the MOH program on preparedness and response to any emergency in the country.