Sri Lanka conflict curtails access to health care for tens of thousands, warns UN agency

24 February 2009

The ongoing conflict in northern Sri Lanka between the Government and a rebel group is limiting access to health care, putting the lives of tens of thousands of people at risk, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) cautioned today.

The agency called for a rapid assessment of health needs, improved preventive and curative care and enhanced coordination among all health partners.

It said that the health sector is understaffed, resulting in reduced health care for many people, while the clashes and population displacement are impacting patient referrals.

It is also feared that high immunization rates will not be maintained and that expectant mothers are not able to access the services they need.

The health sector is asking for $7.4 million – of which WHO is seeking over $4 million – as part of the Common Humanitarian Action Plan for Sri Lanka to help internally displaced persons (IDPs) and host communities in strife-torn areas.

To date, the sector has been focusing on assisting people in Kilinochi, Mannar, Jaffna, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu through the delivery of mobile clinics, drugs, medical equipment and bed nets, among other items.

Health awareness campaigns have been carried out and psychosocial and mental health care is also being provided.

“If further measures aren’t taken, health care will continue to deteriorate and outbreaks of malaria, dengue, measles and other communicable diseases could occur,” WHO said in a statement, also warning of the increased threat of gender-based violence.

Some 250,000 civilians are trapped in northern Sri Lanka, where Government forces are battling the separatists Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).


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