Dealing with malnutrition is the big challenge the Health Ministry faces at the 12 camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Vavuniya. Health officials say children, elderly persons and expectant/breast-feeding women who are undernourished are especially vulnerable to disease, communicable and non-communicable.
Health Ministry Secretary Dr. Athula Kahandaliyanage told The Sunday Times that the ministry would welcome support from organisations that could provide vitamins, energy supplements and food supplies.
“We are taking all measures to upgrade patient care and upgrade hospitals where IDPs are receiving medical care,” Dr. Kahandaliyanage said. “We are providing drubs and other medical supplies, and almost all 12 camps in Vavuniya have a health centre.”
The Health Ministry official said the IDPs were found to be already weak and in urgent need of nutrition when they arrived at the cleared areas. “These people have not had proper food for months,” Dr. Kahandaliyanage said. “Some were almost at starvation point.”
According to Health Ministry sources, there are 31, 990 persons representing 9,913 families living in the 12 IDP camps in Vavuniya. At least 750 of these people are pregnant women. A team of 35 medical officers, 15 consultants and 120 nurses work on a weekly rotation basis.
According to Health Ministry sources, the majority of the civilians entering the safe areas were either already suffering from injuries or various illnesses.
Chicken pox, viral flu, respiratory, lung and skin infections, and diarrhoea are among the medical problems reported from the IDP camps.
Because of the intense heat, the dry weather conditions and the prevalence of dust, lung infections and chest diseases are widespread, sources said. Patients with contagious diseases are being treated separately at the Poowarsunkulum peripheral hospital.
Dr. Shanthi Gunawardena, director of the Health Ministry’s Nutrition Co-ordination Division, said supplies of the food supplement Thriposha have been despatched to the camps.
Senior epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Pieris said the Health Ministry’s Epidemiology Unit was on the alert for cases of chicken pox.
“Diseases like chicken pox spread faster when you have a large number of people living together in close proximity,” he said. “We are using the acyclovir vaccine to control the spread of disease.”
Vavuniya Government Agent Mrs. P. S. M. Charles told The Sunday Times that permanent medical centres have been set up at each IDP camp.
“Expectant women have been admitted to the hospitals in Vavuniya and Chettikulum. After the baby is born, both mother and infant are kept at the Vavuniya-based Ayurveda hospital, where the conditions are congenial for breast-feeding mothers and their newborn. All the expectant mothers are under-nourished,” she said.