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Sri Lanka

Paediatric hospitals ‘build back better’ after the 2004 tsunami

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-2135/Pietrasik
A mother holds her baby at the UNICEF-built Amanthanavely Government Health Centre in Amanthanavely.

By Rob McBride

AMANTHANAVELY, Sri Lanka, 23 December 2009 – Taking shade from the fierce Indian Ocean sun, a crowd waited patiently for the UNICEF-built Amanthanavely Government Health Centre to open. Inside, midwives distributed nutritional aid to mothers of underweight children.

Despite their numbers, the line moved quickly and soon the mothers were appearing from the other side of the building, carrying bags of nutritional flour.

“Selected children get the food, based on their age and weight,” explained UNICEF Health and Nutrition Officer Kirupairajah Gowriswaran, who oversaw the operation..

In the next room was a smaller group of mothers whose children aresuffering from severe acute malnutrition. The women  received handouts of 'BP-100' biscuits – a therapeutic food supplied by UNICEF.

New developments

Located on the windswept east coast of Sri Lanka, this centre in Amanthanavely serves a community that was heavily affected by the tsunami five years ago. The village has been largely resettled, in clusters of new homes in the surrounding area on higher ground.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-2139/Pietrasik
One-year-old Sadu sits in bed with her mother and other patients at the Valaichenai Base Hospital in Valaichenai.

"I used to come here for antenatal checkups,” said 18-year-old Kamalanathan Komathy, as she gently rocked her four-month -old baby, Stephen. “They also provide vaccinations here."

Distaster recovery has not been easy, especially given Sri Lanka's recent conflict. Still, everywhere there are signs of new developments that offer hope for the future.

Building hospitals back better

At the district hospital in Valaichenai, a new UNICEF-supported paediatric extension has dramatically improved the treatment of childhood illnesses.

Workmen have been busily converting the third floor into a new maternity facility, complete with fully-equipped delivery suites. The hospital is currently preparing to receive a resident consultant obstetrician.

"At the moment, many maternity cases are referred to the bigger teaching hospital,” explained paediatrician Dr. Arumainathan Nimal. “But soon we will be able to handle them here.”

Here, as elsewhere in the tsunami-affected areas of Sri Lanka, real advances in pre- and post-natal care are offering children today a better start in life than babies born before the tsunami.




UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on new hospitals keeping children healthy in Sri Lanka.

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