Monday, January 10, 2005

Singaporean Doctor in Sri Lanka (UPDATED)

So far, the bulk of the posts are about Singapore's efforts in Indonesia (and Thailand). Given that's where most of Singapore's official effort is concentrated, it's only to be expected. But let's not forget the rest of the region. Take Sri Lanka for example. So far, Singapore has recently (Monday) shipped seven tons of medical supplies to Sri Lanka as part of its response to the crisis. The Foreign Ministry said the consignment contained surgical tools, face masks, disposable syringes, wound dressings, thermometers and other emergency medical items. Monday's shipment is the second to Sri Lanka since the Dec 26 disaster.

This following story is about the experiences of a Singaporean doctor of Sri Lankan ancestry who went back to his father's hometown Galle as part of a team of medical workers. (For those unfamiliar with Singapore's demographics, the bulk of the population of the country is made up of 76% Chinese (mostly from South China), 14% Malay and 8% Indian (mostly from Tamil Nadu).)

What's interesting is that the medical team has recently been providing more basic health care than direct disaster relief.

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Straits Times (Jan 10, 2005): Emotional ride for Singapore doctor in Galle
By Chua Chin Hon

THE DOC IS IN: Dr Mendis examining a Sri Lankan patient at the makeshift clinic which the team has set up in Galle, his father's hometown. BRYAN VAN DER BEEK

EVOLVING ROLE: Team member Dr Lee Hui Ling at work. From disaster relief, the team has swung into providing more needed basic health care. BRYAN VAN DER BEEK

GALLE (SRI LANKA) - RETURNING to this southern Sri Lankan town has been an emotional rollercoaster ride for Singaporean doctor Rohan Mendis. Though he had prepared himself mentally before flying in with a team of Singapore medical workers to provide aid, the extent of the destruction to property and human lives he saw still came as a shock.

Galle is his father's hometown, said Dr Mendis, 37, who is with the Gleneagles Medical Centre. 'Exactly a year ago, I was still here with my family at a beautiful beach resort. Now it's all gone,' he said.

For the past week, he and 28 other medical workers from the Parkway Group Healthcare have been providing medical aid to the tsunami-hit districts of Galle and Matara, treating refugees sheltering at the temporary camps as well as setting up makeshift clinics to help take pressure off the strained medical resources here.

The 1,200-bed Karapipy Hospital in Galle, for instance, had almost 5,000 patients at one point in the early stage of the crisis. The hospital could not discharge some patients as they did not have a home to return to after the massive waves hit on Dec 26, said mission leader Dr Tan Chi Chiu.

The 10-day mission was initially conceived as a disaster relief mission and the team flew into Sri Lanka with heavy equipment for resuscitation, fluid replacement and treatment of severe wounds. But it was soon apparent that the region had a greater need for basic health care as the dead and severely injured had been swiftly dealt with.

The team will have treated about 2,800 Sri Lankans by Sunday when it wraps up its operations. Only about 10 per cent of the patients had injuries or ailments directly related to the tsunami disaster. The team's role, said Dr Tan, is to 'act as the health system's bridge to normal health care'.

Several other Singapore aid agencies and organisations have also travelled to Sri Lanka to help as well as assess its longer-term needs, including Mercy Relief, YMCA and the Buddhist Fellowship and Brahm Education Centre. Mercy Relief shipped in 50 tonnes of food and medical supplies to Colombo this week. Five tonnes of the supplies have already been distributed with the help of the Soka Gakkai Buddhist organisation in Sri Lanka, while the remaining 45 tonnes were left under the charge of the Prime Minister's Office, according to team leader Halifi Hussin.

'We'll be working with our local partner to track how the distribution is being carried out,' said Mr Halifi.

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Straits Times (Jan 11, 2005)
S'pore airlifts medical supplies to Sri Lanka

SINGAPORE airlifted 7 tonnes of medical supplies to tsunami-hit Sri Lanka yesterday. The latest consignment, delivered by Singapore Airlines, included surgical tools, face masks, disposable syringes and other emergency medical items. It was sent at the request of the Sri Lankan government. An earlier shipment was sent on Dec 29. The supplies are funded by Singapore's S$5 million pledge made on Dec 30 to provide relief in tsunami-hit countries.

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