The Australian Medical Aid Foundation, Sri Lanka
The Australian Medical Aid Foundation (AMAF) was on set up by Australian residents who are part of the Tamil diaspora from the long-running Sri Lankan civil war. It is an apolitical organisation that is involved in working in areas of Sri Lanka where there is a Tamil pre-dominance, particularly in the eastern and northern rim of Sri Lanka. This organisation assists in supporting local non-government organizations and provides Australian-based relieving medical care to areas of need. This work started before and continues after the 26 December 2004 tsunami.
My role in February to March 2005:
My visit to eastern Sri Lanka occurred about two months after the tsunami on 26 December 2004. My role was as a medical officer in the provision of mobile medical clinic support to refugee camps unable to be serviced by larger aid organizations.
This involved triage of cases, basic treatment and screening with referral to local hospitals, liaison with aid and non-government organizations and Sri Lankan Health Department to coordinate aid services.
Also involved was advocating for the supply of equipment to local refugee camps with public health items, such as mosquito nets, along with the equiping of local hospitals with appropriate wound care facilities and medication storage.
The facilities that were present for staff of the medical mission were those provided by a local Hindu priest. Accommodation, medical mission planning, supply storage was all maintained at this point.
Part of the team involve in the project attended the local hospital, and with the help of interpreters, assisted in the outpatient duties, obstetric care, basic wound dressing, minor surgical procedures and triage for referral to larger regional hospitals. The local hospital included 10 bed open area ward for men and an enclosed 4 bed paediatric and 8 bed obstetric and women's ward and a small treatment room. The hospital was not equipped for any major surgical or medical interventions due to lack of supply of materials and medications and was limited to minor first aid only. There was no radiology or pathology service.
The remainder of the medical team visited refugee camps and provided in-camp triage and review of unwell patients unable to attend the local hospital.
Disease burden and skills:
The eastern part of Sri Lanka has a very active public health campaign through local non-government organizations.
Malaria and tuberculosis were endemic. Projects targeting nutritional deficiencies such as Vitamin A deficiency, protein energy malnutrition and maternal-child malnutrition are important ongoing projects in the east of Sri Lanka. Domestic violence and obstetric complications were common, but rarely publicised.
There was a high proportion of eye disease, vision impairment (lost spectacles in the tsunami, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression which were being addressed by subsequent teams of ophthalmologist, optometrists and psychiatrist and psychologists.
The skills needed during our visit were basic medical skills, with a knowledge of obstetric, paediatric and infectious disease medicine and its intitial management. Basic surgical skills were used.
The local languages in Sri Lanka are Singhalese and Tamil. Most of the educated Sri Lankan people can speak English. However, in more remote areas and in the east, the use of English is limited and the use of interpreters and local guides is a requirement.
These were arranged through the AMAF. There were no requirements or restrictions on Australian medical registration.
- Sigiriya Fortress, the "Lion Rock", a fortress of the original kings of Sri Lanka, a World Heritage site and spectacular views of the local countryside with outstanding artwork and engineering atop a spectacular horst.
- Tea and coffee plantations.
- Buddhist temple and holy sites in Kandy, the home of a tooth of the Buddha
- Colombo - the capital of Sri Lanka, renowned for it hospitality and amazing food, events and shopping
- Galle a south western port city of Portugese origin affected by the tsunami, but wonderful beaches and resorts.
- Wilderness wildlife parks in the inland regions of tropical rainforest with a multitude of animanls and birds