Humanitarian Health Action

Health Situation in North Sri Lanka

24 FEBRUARY 2009 -- The ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka places the health of tens of thousands of people at risk from insecurity and limited access to health care. The World Health Organization is calling for a rapid health needs assessment, improved preventive and curative care, and better coordination among all health partners.

The health sector is seeking US$ 7.4 million in the Common Humanitarian Action Plan for Sri Lanka for health care for IDPs and host communities in affected areas, of which WHO is seeking US$ 4.5 million. Under WHO leadership, and with support from UNICEF, coordination meetings are held with health partners.

Critical understaffing in the health sector has reduced health care for many people while insecurity and population displacement are affecting patient referrals. Emergency obstetric care is affected with expectant mothers unable to access appropriate services. Setbacks in maintaining high immunization rates are feared. Patients suffering from chronic diseases have difficulty gaining access to specialized treatment.

The focus of the health sector response to date has been on improving access to health care for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and host communities in Kilinochchi, Mannar, Jaffna, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu. Key areas of aid have included mobile clinics, distribution of essential drugs, medical equipment, mother-infant and first aid kits and, bed nets for IDPs and host communities.

Vector control activities and health awareness campaigns have been implemented, while psychosocial care and mental health care is being offered in Mannar, Batticaloa, Vavuniya, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu. Training on emergency first aid for health staff has helped strengthen the referral system for medical emergencies in Jaffna.

If further measures aren't taken, health care will continue to deteriorate and outbreaks of malaria, dengue, measles and other communicable diseases could occur. There is also the threat of gender-based violence and increased numbers of people suffering psychosocial and mental health illnesses.