By S. Sivathasan –
Plumbing new ground, embracing bold initiatives, sustaining effort amidst adversities and bouncing back even after grave situations, have remained a hallmark of the Jaffna man’s attributes. The vicissitudes of Moolai Hospital epitomize these characteristics. Commenced in 1935 as the first Cooperative Hospital in the country, it developed at high speed attracting attention of medical professionals, drawing a multitude of patients from the North and prospering as well.
In the early fifties, there was a news item quoting V. V. Giri from a speech he made in India. Therein he said that the co-operative movement was highly developed in Ceylon and particularly in Jaffna. He stated pointedly that there was even a well-run cooperative hospital in Jaffna. It was a reference to Moolai Hospital. Giri served as the first Indian High Commissioner in Ceylon during 1948 to 1951. He was President of India 1969 to 1974. He had observed the growth of the cooperative movement in Ceylon. His insight on Jaffna was sharp. Moolai Hospital had caught his attention and prompted a keen remark. The accolade was well merited.
The institution built with motives that were altruistic, was envisaged as a non-profit taking venture with benefits accruing to society. It is this hospital which is now on the threshold of setting its sights high. What were its origins? In 1934 a group of socially minded individuals in Jaffna outlined a project for a hospital to be established along cooperative lines. Well known among them was a great cooperator V. Veerasingham, who was Principal of Manipay Hindu College and later the MP for Vaddukkoddai 1952 -1956. Veerasingham Hall a part of the Cooperative Federation complex and a landmark in Jaffna is named after him. Last month the Postal Department issued a stamp honouring his services to the cooperative movement and siting his contribution to establishing the Moolai Hospital.
Moolai was aptly chosen to site the hospital. It is located a mile away from Jaffna College, Vaddukkoddai founded by American Missionaries in 1823. Manipay 5 miles away from Moolai was another great centre of health care. Dr. Green a great American Missionary founded this hospital in 1848 and also established the first Medical School in Ceylon. A School of Nursing too developed alongside at Manipay Hospital. Under the benign patronage of American Missionaries, education and health care developed apace. In the same cradle, Moolai too grew reaching the status for a private Medical College to be recognized in the eighties.
Specialists and Their Dedication
Medical men of repute and commitment came over to the Hospital. Dr. Chacko from Kerala who had his early career at Manipay and was well known in Jaffna moved over to Moolai. In 1946 it was Moolai’s destiny to have had the dedicated services of Dr. N. T. Sampanthan FRCS, who was an honours graduate from the first batch of the University of Ceylon. He and the hospital were one and the hospital owed much of its growth and popularity to him. Patronage increased, hospital expanded into a complex of buildings small and large, even as services were diversified with several specialisms. Very many specialists from the General Hospital Jaffna – later Teaching Hospital – lent their services. The setting up of a private Medical College in 1985 was official acknowledgement of the quality of services. Disruptions of war and continuing turmoil in the eighties and nineties created an interregnum of stagnation and limited services.
A Glimmer with Ceasefire and Resurgence in 2003
The ceasefire of February 2002 ushered in by Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was then Prime Minister was a good augury to unfurl a programme of redevelopment. In the decade that followed, enthusiasts in Sri Lanka as well as UK, USA and Australia made their contribution. Besides individuals, were private sector establishments, British High Commission, USAID and NGOs. The hospital management engaged the services of M. Retnasingham a reputed public servant who had retired from Jaffna Kachcheri. Subsequent to the ceasefire, he drew up a programme for the ‘Restoration of Moolai Hospital’. The funds that flowed over the years reached a total of Rs. 79 million which helped in resuscitation of facilities and bringing the patients treated in a year to 44,000.
Change in Governance and Fresh Initiatives – Post 2015
The country has seen a sea change since January 2015. A shift of power at the helm and a change on ground in the North have inspired a new confidence to set a fresh direction to the people there. It has manifested in a mood for renewal and a new beginning for Moolai Hospital. First in point of time are plans to mobilize finances for renovating buildings, updating equipment, modernizing facilities and to diversify services.
Apace with the above are efforts already launched to develop a Hospital automation software system for:
- Stock Management for the Hospital Pharmacy
- Electronic Patient Management for Outpatients Clinic
- Centralized Electronic Medical Records (EMR)
- Billing and Reports
Funded by US Tamils, Vetri Holdings, a limited liability company is undertaking this assignment. The software written by Jaffna based software engineers is named arogya.life. This will document demography of patients, diagnosis, history of clinical investigations on patients and treatment plan from past visits. This software a first of its kind in the Northern Province will enhance the institution’s efficiency.
What the Future Beckons
Men of medicine and others of vision, both inland and outside have now set out to take the hospital to unprecedented heights. The diaspora spread across several climes will join in planning out the physical requirements of infrastructure. Among them modern equipment and custom built structures to house them will command precedence. As for human resources, they are very much in place. It is likely that expatriates from the Diaspora, will bring greater modernity together with their services. Para medics an integral part of health care will be trained in house.
What may be discerned from the above account is that improved services on a wider scale would inevitably demand expanding land capacity and blossoming medium rises. Thinking high involves high finances. Building a good treasury is within the resource capacity of the beneficiary community and the investor segments of the Diaspora. If co-operative laws are found inadequate or outmoded or constricting, new ground needs to be plumbed. Limited Liability venture may have alluring prospects for the investor community. A Tamil classic says “There is nothing faulty in the old yielding place to the new. It is but a need of the times”.