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Hospitals first, hotels can wait, say Jaffna residents

A mega cash injection is needed to upgrade the quality of services at the overcrowded Jaffna Teaching Hospital and other state medical institutions in the northern peninsula, say residents and parliamentarians.

The residents are urging Colombo-based policy-makers to focus on developing hospitals in Jaffna to support post-war reconstruction efforts and tourism promotion.

"It is good that new hotels are being planned in Jaffna, but where will visitors and tourists go, if there is no satisfactory hospital system here?" asked 70-year-old pensioner Thanikasalam Ramachandran.

Citing an example, he said the children’s wards No 11 and 12 at the Jaffna Teaching Hospital needed a major improvement similar to that of the Lady Ridgeway Hospital in Borella, Colombo.

The 1,300-bed Teaching Hospital, battered by 30 years of conflict, is the main state health institution in the peninsula. It caters to more than 650,000 people.

Hospital director Dr. S Bavananthan told The Island that the Health Ministry in Colombo had taken several steps in recent months to develop the district’s main hospital.

He said the ministry was sending at least 50 nurses from the south to improve the services . A neurology unit would also open soon.

He said 32 consultants were now serving at the hospital and there was no shortage of human resources. Around 28 interns from the Jaffna Medical Faculty were also part of the health care team, he said.

The director pointed out that work would begin soon on a Japanese-funded project to build a new hospital building with more than Rs. 3 billion rupees of investment.

It would include a new laboratory complex, a radiological diagnosis department, a new operating theatre including ICUs and a Central Supply and Sterilising Department, he said.

But re-elected Jaffna MP Suresh Premachandran said the government had failed to take concrete steps to alleviate the suffering of Jaffna-based patients.

The Jaffna health sector remained neglected even after the end of the war though the government propaganda machinery kept on projecting the so-called ‘Uthure Vasanthaya’ programme, he alleged.

Hospital development was more urgent in Jaffna than hotel projects, Premachandran pointed out.

He urged the government to boost the quality of services at state health institutions in the peninsula as soon as possible.

The standards at Jaffna Teaching Hospital should at least be similar to that of Colombo National Hospital, he said.

The hospitals in Kopay, Moolai and Manthikai also need immediate attention, Premachandra said.

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