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March 03, 2015

In Brussels earlier today, the European Commission hosted an international conference on the subject of the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa. With the one-year anniversary of the outbreak approaching, the purpose of the conference is to discuss ways to accelerate the process of eliminating the disease in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and to make plans for the post-outbreak recovery needs in these countries.

Following a directive from the government of Sri Lanka earlier this week, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) withdrew its staff today from Kilinochchi town in the LTTE-controlled Vanni. MSF is very concerned about the possible consequences of ongoing hostilities for the population still living in the area, and the impact of displacement on the health of the population. MSF urges both parties to the conflict to ensure that all possible measures are taken to protect civilians from the impact of the conflict, and to allow assistance to resume as soon as possible.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is very concerned for the safety of an estimated 250,000 people trapped in heavy fighting in the Vanni district of Sri Lanka. Hundreds of civilians are reported to have been wounded and killed during the last days as the area controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has shrunk in the face of the government of Sri Lanka’s military offensive. MSF has received reports from the Vanni area that the plight of the civilians is dire. Hospitals are coping to the best of their ability, but are running low on drugs and medical staff.

On Jan. 29, 226 sick and wounded civilians, 51 of them children, were evacuated by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN from the Vanni district of Sri Lanka. Delays at the government checkpoint in Omanthai meant that patients were arriving throughout the evening and night and into the very early morning in Vavuniya Hospital. Some were newly wounded during the recent fighting, while others were suffering from festering wounds up to two or three weeks old.  In the fighting many patients lost limbs due to shrapnel and shells.

Wounded, shocked and distressed. After having fled heavy fighting in the Vanni area of Sri Lanka, people arriving in Vavuniya hospital need both medical care and counselling. Working with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), mental health worker Karen Stewart hears their stories and shares them here. People arrive here in a state of extreme anxiety and fear. They have been separated from their families and often have no news about their fate. Young children and the elderly travelling with their caretakers claim they were separated at a checkpoint.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is urgently calling on both parties in the conflict in the Vanni area in northern Sri Lanka to ensure the safety of civilians and to allow access to humanitarian assistance. In neighbouring Vavuniya, located outside the conflict zone, MSF medical teams are working with hospital staff around the clock. Ninety percent of the injuries seen are a direct result of the fighting. People are being brought to hospitals with gun-shot and shrapnel wounds.

During the first two weeks of March relatively few people seem to have been able to flee from the Vanni area in Sri Lanka.

With heavy rains pouring down in the last days, the situation in Sri Lanka’s northern Vanni region has deteriorated further. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is concerned that watery diarrhea and respiratory infections will pose serious threats to the more than 150,000 civilians still estimated to be trapped in the area. People have been lacking drinking water, medicines and a sanitation system for weeks.

Over the last 36 hours Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) surgeons alongside Ministry of Health staff, have been working around the clock to treat more than 400 war wounded patients that have arrived in Vavuniya hospital, in the government controlled area in northern Sri Lanka. This number represents almost double the number of patients that were normally admitted to hospital in the space of a week. The injuries are mostly caused by shrapnel and landmines. Busloads of patients are arriving from the conflict zone to the hospital and the government-run camps in Vavuniya.

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