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Health workers head north

A tuk-tuk driver practices tying a splint on someone's leg. Health professionals hope training taxi drivers will prevent  injuries caused to accident victims while being transported to hospital.
(Christine Jayasinghe/IRIN)

Healthcare workers are slowly returning to the conflict-affected north of Sri Lanka, where only six doctors covered 1,279 sqkm and an estimated population of at least 300,000 during the height of fighting in 2009 in a region known as the Vanni.



The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least one doctor - 23 health workers in total - for every 10,000 residents to provide the minimum level of care; in the Vanni, each doctor covered at least 50,000 people.



During two decades of civil war, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatist rebels controlled most of the country's north, blocking access to healthcare delivery and making it impossible for healthcare improvements to be directed from the capital, Colombo, 225km away, according to government sources.



The government declared victory over the LTTE in May 2009.



Since then, the number of doctors has grown to 50 on the ground with 76 recently certified doctors set to transfer north in early 2011.



"The human resources are now getting ready to fill the existing vacancies in the northern province - Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts - with the certification of 250 more medical officers, 50 more provincial health inspectors and 50 more healthcare centres by May 2011," said Kanagaiyan Akilan, the government's director of northern health services.



Health inspectors help to monitor health activities and enforce national legislation.



Despite the still paltry presence of health workers in the north, existing health staff are making headway, Edwin Salvador, WHO's technical officer for emergency humanitarian action in Sri Lanka, said.



Less deadly



Overall infant mortality figures in the north are falling in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts and are now on a par with national averages due to improvements in healthcare services, according to the government.



Nationally, an estimated 13 babies died for every 1,000 live births in 2009, according to the government.



Healthcare centres are being rebuilt in the resettlement areas in the districts of Mannar, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi, with mobile clinics from the Ministry of Health and NGOs providing basic medical services, according to WHO.



The UN health body is also working with the Health Ministry to train health staff and improve disease surveillance, previously almost non-existent, in resettlement areas.



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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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