Injured Tamils overwhelming hospital, says doctor in Sri Lanka


Colombo : The unfolding human tragedy of weary civilians fleeing the LTTE-held area in the island’s north has “overwhelmed” a 450-bed hospital in Vavuniya which now tends to 1,700 badly wounded patients, a doctor said.

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Paul McMaster, a doctor who works with with the international NGO Medecins Sans Fronti貥s (MSF or Doctors Without Borders) and health ministry staff at Vavuniya hospital in the Northern province said: “We’ve been seeing very severely wounded patients, the numbers of patients have increased rapidly over the last three or four days, so we’re seeing a stream of badly wounded people being brought into us.”

“Our hospital has got about 450 beds, and we’ve now got more than 1,700 patients in the hospital – on the floor, in the corridors, and even outside. So the hospital is very close to being overwhelmed,” said McMaster in a statement released by MSF.

About three-quarters of the injured coming in now have suffered from blast injuries, and the rest are gunshot wounds and mine explosion injuries, he said.

“We are doing a lot of amputations. Many of the lower limbs are severely, severely injured and blown off… Buses that bring these people down, people are dying on those buses, and bodies are being taken off the buses sometimes as well.”

Speaking about the plight of the wounded, McMaster said: “We’re seeing a lot of men with severe injuries, but we’re also seeing a lot of women, a lot of children. We’re doing amputations on children…We’re seeing whole families that are wounded sometimes.”

He went on to say: “We’re seeing children that have no parents with them. We had a little boy with a blast amputation of his leg, I think he’s about five, and he’s being looked after by his big brother, who’s about seven, and we don’t know where the parents are or whether they’re even alive. But these two little children are in the middle of a very traumatic hospital setting on their own.”

On the mental state of the patients, he said “they just lie silently awaiting their turn to get treatment. We’re dealing with critical people who need surgery urgently, and truthfully there’s little time to go further.

“But these are deeply, deeply traumatised people. We have children sitting in the middle of emergency wards seeing people brought in with major blasts limb injuries. And these are children, just sitting silently, emotionless, in the middle of all this, as we try to treat them and move them quickly up to the surgery or the ward.”

He said that patients were living under very difficult conditions. “They come in needing acute surgery, so are not able to eat, and certainly some of them have had little to eat in the previous days. They come with nothing; they have barely the clothes that they have on. Of course, they’re injured. The family members, if there is one, come with nothing – no pots, no pans.”

The doctor observed that the post-operative care is the area of main concern.

“It’s very difficult. We have a ward that I think is supposed to have 45 beds; we’ve had something like 325 patients in it. It’s extremely difficult to give any quality post-operative care.”

“From what I hear, the numbers are likely to continue over these coming days, and could even increase. We’re making what preparations we can to receive an even larger number of casualties over these coming days. And our hope and prayer would be, of course, this stops very quickly, but I’ve seen no sign of that as yet, and I’ve not heard anything from the team or our Sri Lankan colleagues to suggest that’s going to stop any time soon,” he said grimly.