Indian military doctors save lives in Sri Lanka

April 19th, 2009 - 2:40 pm ICT by IANS  

By M.R. Narayan Swamy
New Delhi, April 19 (IANS) As Sri Lankan troops battle the Tamil Tigers in their very last bastion, a small group of Indian doctors are quietly treating scores of maimed and wounded Tamil civilians pouring out of the war zone.

The medical personnel, drawn from the military, have already treated more than 1,600 men, women and children since setting up a full-fledged field hospital in Trincomalee in the island’s east about a month ago.

The doctors and the medical staff are expected to stay on in the coastal strip of Pulmoddai for another month, coinciding with a time when the fighting has led to large-scale civilian suffering and has the international community worried.

“The Indian doctors have really done good work,” Sri Lankan Health Minister Nimal Sripala de Silva told IANS over the telephone from Colombo. “They are working well, they are functioning well.”

This is the biggest deployment of Indian military personnel, albeit doctors, in Sri Lanka since the tsunami of December 2004. Earlier, Indian troops fought the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the northeast for over two years before returning home in March 1990.

There has been some criticism of the Indian medical deployment in Sri Lanka but officials in both countries say the intervention has been immensely useful to civilians mauled by the unending war.

It all began in mid-March when New Delhi flew 52 doctors and support staff from the Armed Forces Medical Services to Pulmoddai to treat badly injured civilians, ferried every third day by ship by the international Red Cross from neighbouring Mullaitivu district where Tamil guerrillas are still holding out.

Most Tamil civilians land with serious injures, blamed mostly on exploding bombs and artillery shells. Many require immediate surgical intervention. Some come on stretchers, unable to even sit or stand up.

Each time a group arrives, the doctors as well as nurses and paramedical staff get to work furiously. The hospital has a trauma centre, a blood bank, labs to test blood and urine, x-ray facilities and more. Medicines are never in short supply. Only ambulances have been provided by the Sri Lankans.

The hospital began with 40 to 50 beds. This has now gone up to 120 beds.

Those with relatively minor injures are moved to other hospitals, to make way for new arrivals, while the more serious cases are kept in the hospital for a day or more. Like in any hospital, the patients are attended to day and night.

“The doctors are working under tremendous strain, considering the numbers involved,” said an official overseeing the hospital. “It will not be wrong to say that the doctors are doing an excellent job.”

The Indian government has since increased the number of medical personnel at the hospital by 10, taking the total number to 62.

“Some of the patients are traumatised when they reach the hospital,” explained the official. “These people are victims of war.”

The Indian team includes some Tamil speakers. Others manage with the help of interpreters who are outside of the medical delegation.

Sri Lankan minister de Silva said the Indians had offered to extend their work. “I said okay. We have no problems. It is a joint effort,” he said.

(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at

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