The Need

Although medical care at government hospitals is free, quality of care varies and local needs often overwhelm the system especially in rural areas. In Colombo, 43% of the population lives in slums and shanty settlements that lack clean water, electricity and toilets and potable water sources sustained heavy damage in coastal areas hit by the December 2004 Tsunami, the Manila, Philippines – based Asian Development Bank says.


The Sri Lankan Civil War that ended in 2009 eliminated many state-sponsored services such as health care, education, electricity and water in the North and East of the Island.  Many children throughout the Island have witnessed extensive violence, due to the war that began in 1983. Many Sri Lankans have suffered the disappearances or deaths of the family and friends. The war represented the “single most debilitating and pervasive factor affecting the lives the lives of women and children”, according to a study made by Medicine, Conflict and Survival, a London – UK based international journal.


Emergency mental health workers who travelled to Sri Lanka following the Tsunami found thousands of displaced people in a state of shock and warned government officials of an impending mental health crisis. “An entire generation is going to be affected by post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression,” said Debra I. Wentz, a behavioral health expert who participated in Sri Lanka’s post – tsunami relief. She has been proved right, as mental health cases looked like becoming an epidemic last year Dr. Rajiv Weerasundera, secretary of the Sri Lanka College of Psychiatrists, told the Irvine, California-based Psychiatric Times magazine that Sri Lanka has less than 50 psychiatrists for a population of more than 20 million people.


“The country does not have benefits for persons with mental disorders. Mental illness is considered a disability, but is not entitled for benefits,” says a 2001 World Health Organisation (WHO) report. Many mentally disabled children are treated as outcasts by their families, partly due to the tremendous strains families face.


“There are no community care facilities for people with mental disorders. Community care in some form is provided at an individual level by NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organisation). There is notable input into community care by NGO’s. They are mainly involved in advocacy, promotion, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation,” says a 2005 WHO report.


“In all wars and disasters, it is the disabled child that is the first to die; it is the disabled child that is the first to get disease and infection; it is the disabled child that is the last to get resources when they are handed out,” says Chris Stubbs in a Tsunami and War report for Terre des hommes – Netherlands.

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