Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: Health Ministry and Oxfam educate people on prevention of epidemics

The precautionary measures initiated by Sri Lankan health authorities and doctors, who worked round the clock in the aftermath of the 26/12 disaster effectively arrested the possible post-tsunami epidemics in affected areas. As early as in January 2005 the World Health Organization's South-East Asia Regional Director, Dr Samlee Plianbangchang congratulated the Sri Lankan authorities for their overall handling of the crisis, and reiterated WHO's continued assistance and support, including its role as health coordinator within the UN family.

Six months after the tsunami there has been no let up by the health authorities. A public health awareness campaign has just been concluded by the Ministry of Health along with Oxfam and its partner organizations to educate the tsunami affected families on prevention of epidemics.

In Matara the campaign began on July 11 with an inter-camp cleaning competition. Volunteers distributed camp cleaning kits in eight camps where Oxfam has taken up Public Health programme. Also each of the households in these camps was given a compost bin for collection of garbage so that the disposal of waste is easier. Public Health Assistants and volunteers from the community held discussions with the residents of these camps on disposal of solid waste.

"There is a lack of knowledge about public health,'' said Subhadra Meegasdeniya, Project Officer Public Health in Matara. "With the help of volunteers and the ministry of health Oxfam is trying to make people aware of prevention of epidemics like dengue."

The campaign in Matara district concluded with a cricket tournament between five teams at the Devundara Pradeshya Sabha stadium. All these teams were from different camps consisting of players affected by the tsunami. Each team had been given a name related to one of the various components of the Public Health Programme. The Compost team won the PHP trophy defeating the Clean Water Team. Solid Waste Management team, Malaria and Dengue Prevention team and Vector Control team also received trophies for participating in the tournament.

"Cricket is the most loved sport in the country, so we decided to have a cricket tournament to raise awareness about public health,'' said Edward Santiago, assistant programme coordinator of Matara. "It attracts people and also it's easy for us to convey the key messages."

Even the players were extremely thrilled. "Winning or losing does not matter, this is the first time we got a chance to play a cricket match after the tsunami,'' said P. K. Priyantha, captain of the winning team and resident of the Kandagodella camp. "We are grateful to the organizers for giving us this opportunity. All the teams were very happy."

An art competition was held for school children during the awareness week and their paintings were exhibited at the Devundara Pradeshya Sabha stadium. All participants in the competition were children from the camps.

Children from the camps presented dances and skits at a competition to mark the end of the campaign. All the plays were scripted and choreographed by children with assistance from volunteers and staff of Oxfam and its partner organizations.

In Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, government officials and community leaders evaluated the public health programme of Oxfam undertaken in 17 camps and six villages. Oxfam has distributed 3,000 hygiene kits, 139 toilet cleaning kits, 30 camp cleaning kits and other equipment amongst the camps and villages.

Oxfam's tsunami response began soon after the killer waves hit Sri Lanka's coastline. In the initial phase Oxfam provided water and sanitation to the affected communities. While continuing the water and sanitation programme, Oxfam has also embarked upon Public Health projects in the camps.

The Public Health Programme has reached some 50,000 families, with the help of volunteers drawn from various affected communities. The key components of Oxfam's Public Health programme are preventing dengue and other epidemics as well as facilitating solid waste management.