Sri Lanka

Update from the Field

October 31, 2006

With immense gratitude and pleasure, we at the Real Medicine Foundation would like to thank Direct Relief International for awarding us the following grant for our relief work in Sri Lanka:

Direct Relief International will procure a Matachana High Pressure Steam Sterilizer, Model 1006 E-1, from Premium International (Pvt) Ltd, Sri Lanka (valued at $70,000). This equipment will be used in the Operating Theater Suite at the Tangalle District Hospital to ensure that quality health services are available for the long-term. It will be delivered to the Operating Theater at the Tangalle District Hospital by January 2007.

We are grateful and proud to enter into this tsunami-relief partnership and would like to express our immense gratitude to Direct Relief International for making this possible. Because of your generosity, thousands of people will receive much needed surgeries. Countless lives will be saved. It is impossible to measure the impact your donation will have.

Progress followed by Dr. Martina Fuchs – REAL MEDICINE FOUNDATION

Photo: Nick Buckingham in the Minor Surgery Ward, February 2005

Nick Buckingham of BTR Tangalle District Hospital (BTRTDH) Trust writes:

In the first few days after the Tsunami it took some intense deliberation to prioritise. What could I and others do towards the relief effort? At that time, everyone wanted to help – professionals and volunteers alike. With chaos, destruction and fear all around, for the inexperienced and first time 'do-gooder'knowing where to start wasn't so straightforward.

While searching for missing friends (thankfully found) I dropped off the contents of my medicine cabinet at the inadequate hospital in the town, knowing it would have precious few supplies. In doing so, a project to rehabilitate the 150 bed Tangalle District Hospital stood out as a vital and urgent need. Post-Tsunami disease outbreaks were envisaged, as was the possibility of more tsunamis to follow. We would certainly need a functioning hospital in the town.

Talking to hospitalised survivors and their families, hearing horror stories of inadequate care for serious injuries, unnecessary death, lack of equipment and treatment in corridors next to the dead; it was becoming clear that this appalling excuse for a hospital needed a 'band-aid'. When witnessing the many years of neglect and virtually zero equipment, I got very angry and very frustrated! Walking through such dilapidated buildings, seeing and smelling the degrading place first hand – most westerners would have felt just the same as I did. I couldn't just turn my back and walk away like we all tend to do most of the time. Nor could I help wondering – what kind of world do we live in that allows this?

Photo: Children's Ward, March 2006

But, as an ordinary 45 year old UK businessman living and working in Sri Lanka, what did I know about hospitals? Early on, this frequently asked question was usually answered by "Nothing! But we're here and I don't think we'll make it any worse!!"

I set up the BTRTDH Trust 14 months ago and we're still going strong. No disease outbreaks or tsunamis thankfully and, a mature project which has already achieved more than could have been imagined. It's great to see patients in humane surroundings and soon our medical purchases will be saving and improving people's lives.

With every US$1 going to the heart of the project it's staggering how far the money goes here in Sri Lanka. Initially proposed as a $90,000 – 3 month clean-up/second-hand equipment exercise, BTR Tangalle District Hospital Trust has grown into the most talked about post-tsunami initiative in town. The Trust survives thanks to its donors, volunteers and hard working 'day labour' workforce. The only salaried staff are: Construction Manager Shantha, Nimal the Supervisor and, our multi-skilled Office Manager Kalpa – all Sri Lankans. Administration costs are kept minimal – at around just 1% of overall estimated project value, and there are NO expense accounts!

So far, five patient wards have been completely renovated and are back in use. A virtual reconstruction of the Operating Theatre Suite comprising; two theatres, preparation and recovery area, and, a post-operative intensive care unit – is near to completion. Infrastructure cornerstones such as the brand new laundry and our newly opened Kitchen are just part of the story. The new generator arrived today and medical equipment is in transit. c$930,000 is the current estimate of the overall project value – more than ten times what we set out to achieve. Around 65% of that sum is medical equipment, beds and furniture.

Photo: Hospital Renovation, June 2005

Since our arrival at the hospital, others have 'come to the party'. Malaysian Buddhists through 'The Aloka Trust' have erected a large new outpatient building – eventually to provide Accident & Emergency plus other facilities. Importantly, combined efforts have elevated the hospital status to that of Base Hospital 'Type A', which means better trained/higher qualified staff, a bigger budget for maintenance and cleaning, and, hopefully a transition from medieval patient care to something approaching up-to -date!

So long as we can find a little more money – around $112,000, we can complete our task of rehabilitating the existing old buildings. It would be sad not to finish now that we are so close to our goal but it's getting tough. Tsunami is old news; Katrina, Pakistan and other disasters have dominated the news, and money's too tight to mention!

Despite our cash shortage we persevere! We believe that someone, somewhere, will come to our rescue. Maybe you?

Finally, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Tangalle is leaving it all up to us to fix up the hospital. Recently, in a heart warming bid to say thanks, public support for our project turned to action when, hearing of our fund shortfall, local business and community leaders staged the largest musical show ever held in the town. 8000 boisterous fans packed into the small cricket ground to cheer on top name artists who that night performed free. The event 'A Drop of Sweat for Our Hospital' was a huge success – raising more than $4000 for our efforts and, motivating us to continue. Sri Lankans helping us to help them gives me hope for a brighter future for this hospital and humanity.

For more information:

Country Page: Sri Lanka Initiative Page: Tangalle Hospital Rehabilitation Project