Jaffna hospital a human shield - doctors

[TamilNet, Monday, 11 June 2001, 21:31 GMT]
"The Jaffna hospital has been a human shield since 1996. As such the use of some of its buildings and passages is still prohibited. Our reasonable request to remove the Sri Lanka army camp near the Jaffna hospital in consideration of the safety of its patients and staff and to declare it and its environs as a demilitarised zone under the supervision of the ICRC has not been heeded until this day", said Medical officers in Jaffna who went on a protest strike along with their colleagues in the north and east of Sri Lanka Monday.

Tamil medical officers working in the conflict zones of the island charge that they are subjected to ethnic discrimination by being denied the special allowances that are paid to Sinhala doctors working with them.

The following are excerpts from a statement issued by the association of government medical officers in Jaffna Monday.

"There is shortage of many instruments in the Jaffna hospital. Modern instruments that are given to hospitals in the south are not sent here. We cannot even get down instruments gifted to the Jaffna hospital by foreign governments and international aid organisations because we cannot obtain permission from the Ministry of Defence. As a consequence, many instruments have been held up in Colombo or have arrived here in a state of utter disrepair. For example, a central air conditioning unit for the Jaffna hospital was sent after 10 years when it was totally damaged, corroded and unusable.

"The Jaffna hospital gets less funds than what is allocated annually to small hospitals in the south (Sinhala majority areas). Maintenance, renovations and development of the hospitals are severely affected by the lack of funds.

"The Jaffna hospital has been a human shield since 1996. As such the use of some of its buildings and passages is still prohibited. The government made special arrangements for the safe transfer of Sinhala medical officers when the war escalated last year. But Tamil medical officers and other staff continued to work here even after their transfer. Our reasonable request to remove the Sri Lanka army camp near the Jaffna hospital in consideration of the safety of its patients and staff and declare it and its environs as a demilitarised zone under the supervision of the ICRC has not been heeded until this day. The health services of Jaffna are functioning under such dire circumstances. But the government grants special allowances, life insurance, transport facilities and expenses and special holidays to only those medical officers who are residents of the south i.e. Sinhalese.

"The government refuses to accept our request that these should be granted to all medical officers in the north and east regardless of their ethnicity.

"We have complained at many forums that the Sri Lankan is discriminating in this manner. We have also staged token strikes. But none of our requests have been accepted so far. Those who claim that they are working for the interests of the Jaffna people have not taken our predicament into consideration. We have begun a protest against the ethnic discrimination in granting the special allowance and to demand that the allowance be given equitably to everyone regardless of his or her ethnicity. Although we gave ample time to the Ministry of Health to address our problem, there has been no response from them so far. We regret the inconvenience caused to the general public due to our struggle."

"From 1990 the Jaffna hospital had to face shortages in oxygen cylinders and instruments, the situation deteriorated further after 1996 when a shortage developed for hospital employees at levels.

"We have been regularly apprising our senior officers and local MPs about this but there is no improvement."

"There continues to be vacancies for medical doctors in the north and east. Ninety percent of the vacancies at the Jaffna hospital have to be filled by specialists and fifty percent by medical officers. The government is deliberately not filling these vacancies".

"Those doctors who completed their internship in the Jaffna Medical College are leaving Jaffna. The Sri Lankan government is deliberately not filling vacancies for medical officers in Jaffna in recent years. Vacancies (for medical officers) in Jaffna are concealed as in the Vanni. Even though many doctors graduating from the Jaffna Medical College want to leave Jaffna, there are some who still want to stay back and work here.

"There is a shortage of drugs in Jaffna. This is due to the restrictions by the Ministry of defence on the transport of medicine to Jaffna peninsula."

 

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