Merrill J. Fernando, Settlor of the MJF Charitable Foundation, inaugurated a new Outpatient Department and Administrative Block for the Kayts Base Hospital earlier this month. The Dilmah Founder established his foundation to fulfill his commitment to making business a matter of human service. He was joined by Provincial Director of Health Services in the Northern Province, Dr. A. Ketheswaran and Secretary Ministry of Health & Indigenous Medicine Northern Province S. Thiruvakaran, Divisional Secretary - Kayts E Anton Yoganayagam, doctors serving in the region and Mr. Ravi Thambiayah, son of Mr. Alfred Thambiayah, who served as MP for Kayts in the 1950s.
The facility will serve a population of 41,000 from Kayts and surrounding islands. The urgency of the need for an OPD facility was emphasized by several of the people present at the inauguration ceremony. They spoke of the trauma and avoidable suffering caused by the lack of accessible medical facilities especially in the case of snake bites, childbirth, and the physical and cost burden of having to travel to Jaffna for these common issues.
During the conflict of over three decades that hindered progress in the area the colonial era Kayts base hospital - built in the 1930s - served the population of Kayts and the adjacent islands of Velanai, Punguduthivu, Naninativu, Delft, Analitivu, Eluvaitivu, Mandaitivu and Karainagar. The facility has not undergone significant development for decades and the consequent deterioration of medical care caused unimaginable hardship.
Kayts and the islands in the region lacked a X-Ray unit and laboratory, both of which will be part of the services offered by the new Outpatient facility. Due to the lack of facilities, patients were referred to the Jaffna Teaching Hospital for medical treatment, according to the Dr. A. Ketheswaran.
It was not only the patients themselves that suffered as a result of the lack of local facilities, for the family members and care givers of patients faced hardship linked to the absence of affordable and regular transportation and the additional cost of accommodation in Jaffna even for relatively minor medical investigation or treatment. The economic consequences of war have taken their toll on the area, with few employment opportunities and a weak economy. Most of the remaining population is therefore poor and unable to afford these costs.
"Patients who require immediate medical attention faced innumerable difficulties in the past. These people are not rich enough to bear the expenses if they are required to stay in Jaffna for medical treatment." says a patient at the hospital, S. Wasanthan.
The new OPD and Administrative block, a two storied structure of 14,000 sq. ft for Laboratory, X-Ray unit, Clinics, Dispensary and administrative unit will make Kayts Base Hospital a referral centre for the area; benefiting around 50,000 residents. In 2015 the hospital received around 114 patients daily, a number that is expected to increase considerably with the additional facilities.
This project is amongst several that the Dilmah Founder is implementing in the North of Sri Lanka. Others include education, entrepreneurship development, agriculture, conservation and environmental education.
The major extension to the Kayts Base Hospital, built within 14 months by the Foundation at a cost of Rs. 65 million - is an achievement that every Dilmah customer around the world can be proud of, for it is the outcome of the philosophy that business is a matter of human service. The work of the MJF Foundation is funded by Dilmah Tea and ancillary business with the intention of sharing the success of the brand with the less privileged in the community and the environment.
Addressing the official opening, Merrill J. Fernando said; "I did not realise the significance of this hospital at first. I thought I was going to fund a hospital and that is always an honour. But today I learned the plight of the people in the area and I am deeply pleased to have been able to offer this assistance. God has blessed me with success and I believe that it is His Purpose that those blessings are shared with the less fortunate. That is why I founded the MJF Charitable Foundation. Every year we allocate 10% of the pretax profits from our business for serving those less fortunate and it is the most satisfying part of my business."
"This is the fulfilment of a long-felt need," says Dr. Ketheswaran, emphasising that it is a 'symbol of goodwill from people in the South to people in the North.'
"This will bridge North and the South. This will strengthen the goodwill between Sinhala and Tamil communities," he adds.
Sivanesan Kanthan is a patient who expressed similar sentiments. Hard hit by the war that lasted for many decades, he feels that the region still lack sound infrastructure facilities. The hospital gifted to the North by their "counterparts in the South" will strengthen the goodwill between Sinhalese and Tamils, he opines.