Galaha Hospital clashes: Protestors, doctors trade blame | Sunday Observer

Galaha Hospital clashes: Protestors, doctors trade blame

Tensions that erupted at the Galaha hospital in the Kandy District after the death of a child admitted to the facility, have taken a turn for the worse with the powerful doctors’ union GMOA threatening to launch a strike if action is not taken against those who attacked medical officers during the incident.

Located in the misty Hanthana mountain range, most residents of Galaha are in some way connected to the tea estates in the area. Last Tuesday (28), the sleepy village erupted with more than 2000 people crowding the Galaha Divisional Hospital.

The protestors were looking for the Chief Medical Officer of the hospital after the death of a 18 month old child. Parents and residents blamed doctors for failing to treat the baby. The protestors damaged equipment and other property during their search for the doctor.

Sankar Sujee, the child who passed away, is the third child of S. Shankar of Delthota, Galaha. “He had fever for two or three days. On Tuesday, we felt that his fever was getting increased. So we brought him to a private dispensary. The doctor there, advised us to take him to the Galaha hospital. We took a three wheeler and went there around 8.30 am. Although the poor child was moaning with pain none of the doctors took it seriously.

“They gave him medicine but the fever did not decrease. Meanwhile, two women injured in a bus accident were admitted to the hospital. They were preparing to send both women to the Peradeniya Hospital. One attendant suggested we send our son also in the same ambulance. But doctors and even the ambulance driver simply refused it. Later, the ambulance left only with those injured ladies.

“We couldn’t just wait and see. We took the child and left for the Peradeniya hospital in the same three wheeler we came in. It was around 11.40 a.m, when we reached Peradeniya. However, my child died on our way to the hospital,” the father of the child, S. Shanker said, rubbing his eyes filled with tears.

The day the child passed away Delthota, Galaha was quite crowded with people due to an religious festival of the tea estate laborers. The news of the death of Shankar Sujee spread as a wildfire. A few minutes later, the hospital premises was filled with an angry mob. A series of difficulties faced by these socially isolated people had exploded at this time.

The situation quickly got out of hand. The STF, riot police and nine other police stations found it hard to contain the angry mob and rescue medical officers from their wrath. The people were insisting that the police arrest the medical officers for medical negligence. Even though the police explained that there was no legal basis for them to do this, the protestors refused to back down.

Eventually, the police saved the chief medical officer by dressing him as a police officer and throwing a smoke bomb towards the crowd.

Sujee’s mother Pona Rani is devastated. She says even though the family urged the doctors to send her child to Peradeniya for treatment as soon as possible, the doctors snapped at her, saying they could not treat patients based on the family’s requests. “To us doctors are like gods. But they are actually demons. They are heartless.

They don’t feel our pain,” she cried bitterly. Rani works at a day care centre for children in an estate. She laments that she looks after other people’s children, but had been unable to protect her own. Provincial Health Director of the Central Province, Shanthi Samarasinghe explained that the child had been brought to hospital because he was having a seizure. “The doctor gave the child a pill and it had sedated the child. This was normal.

But in the meantime, people had created tension and tried to disrupt treatments. The ambulance had not been available because it was sent with the other two emergency patients,” Samarasinghe explained.

The two medical officers at the Galaha hospital had been transferred to the Central Province Health office with immediate effect, she added. The authorities are now in a fix because the people are refusing to accept the two medical officers and doctors are also refusing to work there anymore.

Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senarathne has also instructed the Director General of health services to conduct an investigation on the incident.

Meanwhile, Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) threatened to go on a strike on September 4, if the police failed to arrest protesters who damaged the hospital properties. GMOA earlier claimed by issuing a press release that lack of facilities and human resources led to the unfortunate incident in Galaha.

Picture by Gampola and Galaha clusters