The baby is born – a brand new, well-equipped COVID-19 ward to give all the care needed not only for expectant mothers who seek the services of the premier De Soysa Hospital for Women (Teaching), down Kynsey Road, Colombo, but also staff who may fall victim to the virus. This ‘people’s gift to the people’ [...]


‘People’s gift to the people’ is born at premier Maternity Hospital

Under the stewardship of Dr. Upuli Wijemanne, the De Soysa Hospital for Women gets brand new complex to brace itself to face any eventuality of COVID-19

A dilapidated building (left) now transformed into a spacious unit. Pix by Akila Jayawardana

The baby is born – a brand new, well-equipped COVID-19 ward to give all the care needed not only for expectant mothers who seek the services of the premier De Soysa Hospital for Women (Teaching), down Kynsey Road, Colombo, but also staff who may fall victim to the virus.

This ‘people’s gift to the people’ at the hospital commonly called DMH has had a short but intense labour period and Director Dr. Upuli Wijemanne details it, while showing the Sunday Times around the complex.

Lying across Francis Road at the rear of the DMH, there had only been a 4,600-sqft decrepit building. Now it is a 40-bed spacious and airy, tiled complex including cots with cartoon characters pasted to the wooden frame at the foot of each bed; a High Dependency Unit (HDU) with an attached washroom; a scanning room; a labour room with an attached washroom; a set of spacious toilets (mostly with commodes but two also for those who prefer to squat) and showers; rooms for on-duty staff; and a few beds in a separate section for any staff members (female or male) who may get COVID-19.

Before the pandemic swept not only across the globe but also Sri Lanka, unleashing wave after wave of infection and death, the building had been for a proposed clinic complex.

It was amidst the heavy COVID-19 burden being faced by hospitals that Dr. Wijemanne took up duties as Director of the over-300-bed DMH in July 14, last year (2021).

Dr. Upuli Wijemanne

“During the first and second waves, DMH continued to perform its major role as a maternity hospital, while tending to some who came in positive. Then in June last year the Delta wave hit,” she says.

Dr. Wijemanne along with her staff realised in July, the need to be “ready” if there was a surge of expectant mothers who were positive.

When she walked around looking for space, she found the more-or-less abandoned building which had been given as accommodation to navy personnel who were involved in putting up the Heart Centre of the Lady Ridgeway Hospital (LRH) for Children. Later, it had served as a navy quarantine centre.

To face the exigencies of an influx of COVID-19 affected expectant mothers, the trend at DMH like many other hospitals was to commission normal wards to isolate them.

The 18-bed Ward 15 as well as another area with another 18 beds which included an eight-bed HDU was accommodating the positive mothers, with those in stable condition being transferred to the Colombo East (Mulleriyawa) Base Hospital, the Homagama Base Hospital and the Neville Fernando Hospital, Malabe, in coordination with the Health Ministry.

In July last year, the Director had discussed with the Consultants the issues that would arise if there is a surge in the virus and more wards needed to be allocated. This could compromise the care of the mothers without COVID-19.

Three weeks later she had taken the matter up with the DMH’s COVID Steering Committee, weighing different options and coming to a consensus that a ward complex seemed to be a dire necessity unless the threat of the virus eased.

By August 23, the need for such a complex became obvious with Sri Lanka going into lockdown, with the Deputy Director, Consultants, Matrons and doctors being on the same page.  

Coming armed with experience of a similar COVID-19 project from the Colombo South (Kalubowila) Teaching Hospital, Dr. Wijemanne then set about garnering public donations, without being a burden on government funds, with the invaluable support of the Consultants. With one of them linking up the project with the army, the latter had readily agreed to provide the labour force free of charge.

Throughout, Health Secretary Dr. Sanjeewa Munasinghe, the Director-General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardena and the Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau (CECB) had been kept in the loop.

Dr. Wijemanne, meanwhile, had also got a safety assessment by the National Building Research Organization (NBRO) which had recommended what measures could ensure safety and a nod from the Department of Archaeology, making sure that this building was not older than 100 years.

With a decision being made that no one at DMH would handle money to ensure transparency, the five-member Donation Coordinating Committee had acted only as the go-between in linking donors to vendors who were supplying the requirements.

Once the construction and refurbishment were underway, came the major challenge of what lay around the building – the garden was a mess, with junk piled high. It was then that the DMH’s Maintenance Unit, minor staff, overseers and security officers put their shoulder to the wheel and held a backbreaking shramadana campaign including the levelling of the ground and making of the road.

The food for the army labour force, meanwhile, had been supplied by the Consultants.

……And so, with the Omicron variant of concern spreading rapidly around the world, the DMH is ready after four months of concerted work and Rs. 10 million donations.

DMH has braced itself to face any eventuality of COVID-19, is what we see as we walk around the new complex.


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