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French medical aid for tsunami-hit children

COLOMBO, Jan 4 (AFP) – France is to organise longer-term medical help for families hit by the devastating December 26 tsunamis, its health minister said after visiting children in Sri Lanka injured in the disaster.

“I was struck by the psychological shock for the families and the children who have lost most, if not all, of their family in the catastrophe,” Philippe Douste-Blazy told AFP after visiting a children’s hospital in Colombo.

The French minister said as soon as he returned to Paris, he would “prepare a coordinated effort by hospitals” to arrange sending volunteers and link medical establishments in Sri Lanka and France.

“These teams will be in action for about two or three months because after the first phase, namely that of the natural catastrophe, there will be a second one of diseases breaking out and a third of food shortages,” he said.

Douste-Blazy, who was paying a 36-hour visit, brought with him 10 tonnes of medical supplies, including antibiotics and anti-diarrhoea treatments.

He said before returning home Tuesday France would organise more such shipments to Sri Lanka and to Indonesia.

The Lady Ridgeway hospital he visited houses some of those injured in the disaster. Colombo was not seriously affected by the tsunamis which left more than 30,000 dead in the island.

Those most severely injured succumbed to their injuries rapidly, humanitarian groups say.

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, who met the French minister Monday, said his country had been caught totally off guard by the disaster.

“We were unprepared physically or psychologically to withstand this catastrophe,” he said.

More than one million Sri Lankans have been left homeless in the wake of the catastrophe. Some 800 shelters have been set up for them in schools, churches, mosques and temples, Kadirgamar said.

Douste-Blazy visited the southern town of Matara where he saw children with limbs fractured by the surging waters.

He was visibly moved as he looked at computer images of bodies photographed for identification.

Of the 520 corpses transported to one hospital, 348 were identified. Twelve of the unidentified were foreigners.

The French minister visited a school in Matara now housing 1,200 displaced people, with a classroom’s blackboard still displaying a recent lesson. The displaced lay sleeping on the floor.

The school has a health centre staffed by students from a medical faculty in the town.

A supply of milk powder, tarpaulins and tents arrived from France at the initiative of the Friends of Sri Lanka Association.


Subject: French News