COLOMBO: Doctors at the government hospitals in the five districts of the Northern Province have, in the past three weeks, examined 96 former cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) following allegations by Tamil politicians that Tiger combatants who had surrendered to the Sri Lanka army at the end of Eelam War IV, were injected with some poisonous drug.
Following a complaint by one of the cadres that he was feeling highly debilitated after being injected with some drug at an army-run rehabilitation centre, some Tamil politicians in the Northern Province said that 107 rehabilitated cadres had died mysteriously after the end of the war. The Northern Provincial Council passed a resolution calling for an investigation. Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran even requested visiting US Air Force doctors to examine some of the cadres.
The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government denied that poisoning had taken place and rejected the proposal to involve foreign doctors, but agreed to get the cadres examined by Tamil doctors from the Northern Province.
Hospitals in the five districts of the Province have been holding special clinics for the cadres every Friday for the past three weeks. So far, 96 cadres have been examined.
Reliable sources in the Northern Province hospitals told Express that an expert committee of doctors will evolve appropriate lines of investigations and treatment based on the medical data available thus far. The new scheme will be communicated to the doctors in the various district hospitals, so that from the coming Friday, patients are examined as per the new scheme.
Asked if the examinations conducted thus far have shown any trend in terms of symptoms or possible diseases, the doctors said that nothing definitive can be said without a careful and full analysis of the data. It is too early to say if the cadres have shown symptoms of cancer or some killer disease as alleged by some politicians and a section of the Tamil media, they added.
The medical profile of the ex-cadres may or may not reflect the profile of the general population in the Northern Province. As for cancer, one doctor said that the number of cancer patients in the North has increased since the war ended. This may be very well be due to better facilities to detect cancer and greater access to hospital treatment after the restoration of peace. Therefore, it is not possible to medically profile the ex-cadre population without a full-scale and scientific study, the doctors said.
Post Trauma Stress Disorder
However, the general impression gathered thus far is that the cadres appear to be suffering from Post Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD). This was because they had experienced war at first hand, been held captive and followed and monitored all the time even after being “rehabilitated and released to live as normal citizens.”
A study by the Jaffna University psychiatrist Dr.Daya Somsundaram found that PTSD is widespread among the general population which had suffered multiple displacement and who had been in the midst of actual fighting.
Some ex-cadres sent word saying that if they went to hospital for treatment, the army intelligence will question them. They feared that army sleuths will be keeping a watch on the hospitals also. Some cadres have these fears though they had told everything they knew about the LTTE to the interrogators and there is nothing more add.
These apprehensions could well be manifestations of the PTSD. PTSD patients may suffer from phobias, fears, apprehensions, suspicions, depression, slothfulness, sleeplessness and anger. And these could manifest themselves in physical disabilities and ailments.
Need For Psychiatric Treatment
While medications can be given to treat physical symptoms, psychological and psychiatric treatment may be necessary in some cases. But Sri Lanka as a whole, and the Northern Province in particular, there is a dearth of psychological counselors and psychiatrists, the doctors said.
An appeal has been made to India, through the Indian Consul General in Jaffna, to send Tamil speaking psychiatrists from Tamil Nadu to help out the Northern Province medical fraternity, the doctors said.