Feature Article

Moolai hospital struggles to get back on feet

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 29 April 2003, 00:15 GMT]
Moolai Hospital in Jaffna, the only large co-operative society medical facility in the northeast, lies largely useless today owing to the lack of doctors, patients and the presence of the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) in its environs. Like most schools, hospitals, other public utilities and temples in the northeast, 16 months of peace and many rounds of negotiations between the Liberation Tigers and Colombo have done little to improve the fortunes of this unique achievement of Jaffna’s co-operative movement.

Mr. Retnasingham
The hospital, established in 1936, served the population in Jaffna’s western parts until it was abandoned and badly damaged during Sri Lankan armed forces operation in Moolai in 1995.

It lies on the approach to the Karainagar Island. The location was very convenient for people of the densely populated Valigamam West region of Jaffna in times of peace. But during the war it has been the main cause of the hospital’s woes.

The Sri Lankan Navy’s Northern headquarters (COMNORTH) is in Karainagar.

The Moolai hospital is on the main road from Jaffna through Manipay and Chulipuram, about two kilometres from the highly secured entrance to the causeway linking the island to the peninsula. It is also by the junction where the interior road from Vaddukkottai meets the Jaffna-Manipay-Karainagar road. The SLN guards this junction and checks outside vehicles at its barrier.

Moolai Hospital

Moolai was abandoned when the SLA and SLN launched an operation from Karainagar to wrest control Jaffna’s western sector in late 1995. The general area including the hospital was a no go military zone for more than six months. Many residents had fled as far as Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu in the Vanni to escape the military occupation.

“When some of us returned to inspect the state of the hospital in 1996, we found it badly damaged by shelling and bombing. The place was also looted, and almost all the equipment and furniture were missing," says Mr. M. Retnasingham, President of the Moolai Co-operative Hospital Society Ltd.

“Before 1995, more than 100 patients a day got treatment at our out patients’ department (OPD). Our medical services were considered so excellent that not only patients from Valigamam West but from Jaffna town but distant Vadamaradchi too came to this hospital," he said.

The Moolai Hospital was also the venue for the North Lanka Private Medical College project. The college was an ambitious private venture intended to help students of the north who were excluded from the medical schools of Sri Lankan state universities by a system of standardising of admissions on the bases other than merit.

the derelict North Lanka Medical College building and lecture hall

Today, the North Lanka Medical College building lies derelict in the premises of the Moolai hospital.

The SLN occupied a large part of its buildings and nurses’ quarters until last year. The navy detachment in the hospital premises had to move out under the terms of the ceasefire agreement the Liberation Tigers and Colombo signed in February 2002.

The British High Commission has helped repair a section of the Moolai hospital and donated some equipment, according to Mr. Retnasingham.

Though fifty beds are ready in the repaired wards, the hospital cannot admit patients due to lack of equipment for the operating theatre, maternity ward and medical lab. The hospital’s total capacity is 105 beds.

Today, only about 10-12 patients come to the OPD. A registered medical officer cum pharmacist dispenses medicine. The hospital has few patients not only because of the continuing navy presence in its environs but also because there is a distressing dearth of doctors.

the still abandoned nurses' quarters

“Only a handful of locally qualified doctors are prepared to work here. Many so called patriotic Tamil doctors in the west may only visit the place and perhaps feel sorry for the hospital’s plight; but none except one or two are prepared to come and serve their countrymen in Moolai”, said a patently chagrined local resident.

However, the hospital management is hopeful that a general practitioner from UK may join them soon.

“To start serving the people here in a basic sense, we need a resident gynaecologist, a physician with experience in anaesthesia and a medical lab technologist," Mr. Retnasingham said.


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