Deadly diseases erupt in Vavuniya

Extent of meningitis, encephalitis outbreaks not reported to authorities
By Chathuri Dissanayake

Vavuniya-based United Nations staff providing relief services to the Internally Displaced People (IDPs) have been advised to keep away from the Vavuniya General Hospital due to an outbreak of meningitis and encephalitis, the Sunday Times learns.

The UN warning to staff came amidst reports that hospital employees at Vavuniya had failed to inform authorities about the outbreak of the two diseases.

Dr. Hemantha Herath, Health Coordinator of the IDP camps, told The Sunday Times, “It is only now that we are getting a regular feedback from the hospital. They have not done in-depth investigations into these cases.”

Over the past week, 14 new encephalitis cases were detected in the hospital. The World Health Organisation in a report has pointed out that while the fatality rate of meningitis cases treated in all government hospitals in Sri Lanka from 2000 to 2005 was dropping to less than five percent, the fatality rate in the Vavuniya General Hospital was about 50 percent.

A team sent by the Health Ministry is studying the causes for the outbreak of these diseases. Meanwhile, according to a latest UN report, diarrhoea and hepatitis A are still prevalent in some of the IDP camps Dr. Herath said the number of cases of diarrhoea and hepatitis A was not going down and they were closely monitoring the situation.

Meanwhile, a report prepared by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that only about 36 percent of the total cost of US$ 270 million had been received by the agency for the relief efforts in Vavuniya.

According to the report, health care, water distribution and supply of food items still need more attention.
The report has warned of the effect the approaching rainy season might have on the camps, especially in low-lying areas. It has called for an improved drainage system and shelters before the rainy season begins.

The Sunday Times also learns there is a shortage of complementary food items in the camps as NGOs which were supplying such items are pulling out.

The report said there is not enough suitable land to build more toilets. The camps currently have only about 9,215 toilets while 15,000 are needed.

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