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Indian doctors return from refugee camps

The team of doctors from the Indian army’s medical corps and Home Ministry’s disaster management cell were on their way back home after treating thousands of Tamil refugees and conducting hundreds of surgeries in the camps of Vavuniya in north Sri Lanka. Sutirtho Patranobis reports.

world Updated: Sep 09, 2009 21:06 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

All eyes at a plush hotel in Colombo on Wednesday afternoon were on Sachin, Dhoni and Yuvraaj as they arrived for the tri-series with Sri Lanka and New Zealand. In the same hotel, another Indian team was making a quiet exit. The team of doctors from the Indian army’s medical corps and Home Ministry’s disaster management cell were on their way back home after treating thousands of Tamil refugees and conducting hundreds of surgeries in the camps of Vavuniya in north Sri Lanka.

For the last 100-odd days, Major Sumeet Lakhvir and Lieutenant Nirmala Bhakuni started work at 8 am in the makeshift hospitals at the Zone 1 camp and treated the last patient at 8 pm. "We did not have time to breathe. After returning to the rest house at night, we ate and slept; A good night’s sleep after a hard day’s work. On certain days, we treated 160 patients each," Lakhvir said. She was part of the 60-member team including 12 doctors.

Headed by oncologist Dharmesh Kumar, the team took over from the first batch of Indian doctors on May 22; three days after Sri Lanka officially declared the war against the LTTE as over. Days before, the last batch of Tamil refugees had walked into the camp with festering wounds and wasted bodies.

With super-specialists at the helm, the two batches of Indian doctors conducted 500 major surgeries and more than 3500 minor ones inside a 40-feet long container, serving as the operation theatre. More than 40000 patients were treated in six months.

Language could have been a problem in dealing with Tamil patients – thousands of them had never stepped out of LTTE territory – but volunteers from among the displaced offered to translate. ``Each one of us had a translator (from among the refugees). There were para-medics among them who also helped,’’ Bhakuni said, adding that nearly all team members had picked up smatterings of Tamil.

The Indian team did not demand any facilities for themselves, health minister Nimal Sripala De Silva said at the farewell function, adding the government has had to build air-conditioned rooms for their Lankan counterparts.

The doctors are returning to India with their X-ray machines and ultrasound equipment. But they are leaving behind a treasury of goodwill.