Having assisted the health officer of the Hambantota District Hospital to deliver a healthy baby girl, Patricia Kemp, Lt. Commander of the Australian Navy and nurse practitioner and midwife of the Pacific Partnership, said the emotional experience was one of a kind and that she was glad to have assisted in the delivery of a Sri Lankan citizen.
Daily Mirror had the opportunity to talk to Commander Kemp who arrived in Sri Lanka along with a group of medical practitioners on March 7. It was her maiden Pacific Partnership mission.
“It was such an emotional experience,” said an overwhelmed Kemp while wiping away her tears of joy.
“The health services in Sri Lanka are very much on par with those in my country. The local nurse practitioners are equipped with vast experience. There was a Sri Lankan lady who had assisted in delivering 10,000 babies,” she said.
The team conducted a number of health campaigns, training sessions and medical expertise exchange programmes with local medical experts at the hospital. Not only did the visiting team engage in these activities, they also treated hospitalized patients.
Medical providers including ophthalmologists, audiologists, cardiologists, neonatologists and orthopaedic surgeons from the US, Australia and Japan came together in the medical camp.
“This campaign could be considered a disaster simulation process where we had to prepare ourselves to arrive at the best medical solution depending on the scenario. This training enabled us to step forward fearlessly and to make use of our expertise,” one of the medical practitioners said.
Apart from the medical exchange, one of the major events at the health camp was a Tsunami drill held to train the participants on how to face such a situation,” Hospital Director Dr. Sumith Manathunga told Daily Mirror.
“We were unable to effectively utilize the aid received during the Tsunami tragedy as there was no proper mechanism. The visiting medical experts have disaster readiness experience gained from different parts of the world, which greatly helped us.
“Medical experts from four countries attended the health camp. They had the opportunity to study the Sri Lankan health system. Local consultants including neurologists, endocrinologists, nurses, cardiologists and orthopaedic surgeons partnered with foreign counterparts. While some of them worked in the eye-clinic, some others delivered lectures on training nurses.
“Apart from medical doctors, other staff categories such as nurses rarely get overseas training. But this camp provided them the opportunity to enhance their experiences with medical experts from different countries,” Dr. Manathunga said.
The Tsunami drill was held in USNS Fall River, the expeditionary fast transport ship of the US Navy that arrived at the Hambantota Port on March 7 for the fortnight multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission of the Pacific Partnership.
The ship made out of aluminum to maintain its speed has a permanent crew of 24 hosts. However, during the Hambantota mission, there were at least 200 personnel.
In another session, US marines provided training to Sri Lankan Navy and Air Force personnel on water purification at the premises of the Hambantota Port.
US Staff Sergeant Devario Graham, a Water Support Chief, who led the training session of Sri Lankan marines, said in case of a disaster, they could come forward and help local marines in providing aid.
“We want to be partners and we want to help. Having shared our know-how, Sri Lanka can be prepared for providing clean water to disaster victims using a reverse osmosis water purification unit,” he told Daily Mirror.
The filters of the reverse osmosis water purification unit have a life span of five years while the unit is self-sustained. It had been added to Pacific Partnership in 2004, and henceforth provided drinking water to disaster victims in a number of countries.
The US Staff Sergeant said there were different aspects that needed consideration when using the unit; a site clear for transport, a 60kw-generator to power the unit and access to any type of water. He said the unit filtered 4,557 litres of seawater and 5,557 litres of contaminated water per hour.
“Since no human could live for more than three days without drinking water, this is a really good tool for life sustenance during disastrous situations. Contaminated water including sewerage and sea water are being pumped into a potable water tank first. Then, as water enters the purification unit, all dirt and micro organisms get filtered. Later, it goes through the reverse osmosis membrane purifying filtered water,” he said.
Graham further stated that after the reverse osmosis process, a device was being used to test the quality of water. Once chlorine was added, the Total Dissolved Solid (TDS), PH and chlorine levels would be checked, he said.
“Chlorine is being added to terminate the growth of bacteria in water. Sodium bisulphite is added after chlorination to reduce any remaining chlorine before releasing water for drinking purposes. Filtered and purified water is sent to another potable tank from which people can store water. At the Hambantota Port, we were given the opportunity to taste filtered and purified seawater. Though I had a sip with uncertainty, to my surprise, purified seawater was not salty.
Graham said they wanted to train Sri Lankan marines on how to use the water purification unit and on how to set it up at a time of a natural disaster.
The Pacific Partnership’s humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission in Sri Lanka was concluded on March 17. Their next destinations are Myanmar, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Pix by Pradeep Pathirana