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Dr. Shanmugarajah Gives Evidence Before the LLRC: 'We Served Pregnant Mothers Even During Last Stages of War, no Mortality'

Dr. V. Shanmugarajah, who worked as the Medical Superintendent of the District General Hospital in Mullaitivu during the war in Wanni (Sept. 2006 to May 15, 2009) appearing before the LLRC on November 18 at the Kadirgamar Institute of Foreign Relations said that he and the staff with support of the health volunteers had ensured that neither pregnant mothers nor their babies died during the last phase of the war in Wanni. He said that all medical supplies and medicine including antibiotics for children had been sent by the Government of Sri Lanka even during the height of the war either directly or by ICRC supervised ships.

As the war intensified in January 2009, the Mullaitivu hospital had been set up in a school in Vallipuram. "By that time, the people in Kilinochchi area had also begun to move into our area," he said.

Dr. Shanmugarajah said: "Medical personnel in Kilinochchi too began to join us. As the front lines moved the hospital was shifted twice and finally it was taken to Vella Mullaiwaikkal in May 2009. During the time the make-shift hospitals were being operated, the staff strength was gradually reduced by about 50 percent and the support of health volunteers helped provide services to patients. We provided medicine to all those who were injured; we also transported pregnant mothers, the elderly and so on by ship with the help of the ICRC. We were able to provide medicine to people, especially children until April 2009."

Dr. Shanmugarajah informed the Commission that around that time people had been ready to flee the area at any cost. When people began to leave the LTTE area, the LTTE had opened fire on the people. "Injured people who came to us had shell injuries too," Dr. Shanmugarajah said.

On May 13, Dr. Shanmugarajah informed the Government Agent, the ICRC, and the Ministry of Health of their inability to keep the hospital functioning due to fighting close to the hospital. The GA advised him and the staff to stay in the same area so that the Army could move in to rescue them. Dr. Shanmugarajah said that on May 15 the Army had rescued all staff, the pregnant mothers, the injured, the elderly and the children. The elderly and the children were inmates of an Elders’ Home and a Children’s home respectively. They also had rushed to the hospital. The army personnel had treated and attended on the injured and the sick. Some patients had been transferred to the Vauniya hospital.

The LLRC commended Dr. Shanmugarajah for his commitment and dedication to patients and his professionalism he had demonstrated even under very difficult circumstances.

Dr. Shanmugarajah said that he also wished to extend his gratitude to the doctors, paramedical staff, the health volunteers, the members of the public who had stayed on to help treat and attend on the patients, as well as the army doctors and military personnel who had helped treat and transport patients and staff.

The Commission asked him about the overall support provided to maintain health services in the area such as the support given by the authorities. Dr. Shanmugarajah said that the Government of Sri Lanka had paid the salaries of all medical staff in the area. All medical supplies and medicines had also been provided by the Government. The LTTE had not provided any financial support to maintain the services; at times LTTE doctors and nurses had helped treat patients.

Responding to a question on the major problems faced by him in maintaining medical services in the last stages of the war, Dr. Shanmugarajah said that from February to 15 May 2010, the hospital had been located in Rette Waikkal and Mulle Waikkal respectively. Lack of space and staff (by that time about 50 percent of staff had left) had been the major problems. In responding to a question whether records were maintained on categories of injured, Dr. Shanmugarajah said, "We could not distinguish between (injured) LTTE and civilians."

The Commission then asked whether he had given any reports to the electronic media about the numbers injured. Dr. Shanmugarajah said that they had been compelled or forced by the situation to ‘inflate’ the numbers of persons injured. He said that LTTE had compelled them to inflate the number of the injured persons.

Dr. Shanmugarajah informed the Commission that he did not know the whys and wherefores of the war. However, as a government servant he had served as best as he could during the war and was continuing to serve the people even then, he said.

"I closely associated with the people of the area; during the pre-war time they were generally happy and once the war resumed in 2006 they were worried. They became apprehensive as their free movement was restricted. Furthermore transport facilities became unavailable. Roads became bad’.

Dr. Shanmugarajah said, now, that the war had been concluded, the area was gradually being re- built. In some hospitals, about 75 percent of renovation work had been completed. The Mullaitivu District was comparatively bad (less developed) compared to other areas. Many initiatives were now being taken to develop the area. Now, the people living in the area were feeling relieved. To some extent they were beginning to be satisfied. The Government was providing grants for paddy cultivation. People in the fishery industry were being assisted. The people felt that in about two years they would be alright, Dr. Shanmugarajah said.

However, in the Mullaitivu District there was a severe shortage of government personnel, Dr. Shanmugarajah said. "I wish to recommend that when vacancies in health sector are filled consideration be given to those health volunteers who served in the area during the war time with commitment. Comparatively, the people in Mullaitivu are educationally backward. They wish to overcome this situation. I can assure you that people of Wanni do not wish to suffer any more. Now the Wanni people are beginning to feel somewhat happy; they are able to sell their fish and agricultural produce at a good price to some extent. The market for their produce is improving. People are beginning to look to the future."

Dr. Shanmugarajah concluded by pointing out that Sri Lankans and the (world) should realize that still a large group of people were living below the poverty line in Wanni. There were widows as well as former LTTE cadres who were disabled. Those categories needed further special assistance. He said, "I wish to appeal to people living in Sri Lanka, and especially to those Tamil people living overseas to do their utmost to help these special groups in Vanni’. (Courtesy : The Island)