This famous Moolai Cooperative Hospital was founded in 1935 was set up as a non-profit cooperative owned by its members and was claimed as the first of its kind in South Asia; started with Dr. Candappar Kanagarayar as the only doctor and two apothecaries (pharmacists); all of whom were pensioners back from Malaya who gave their services free of charge. By 1949 the hospital had 59 staff, including 3 doctors and 8 apothecaries; that grew by 1970 to 122 paid staff including 5 doctors, 10 apothecaries and 42 nurses.
Sadly, the hospital as it was located close to no man’s land bordering high security zone protecting military facilities was another victim of the Civil War as the fighting intensity peaked in 1995, it was bombarded and shelled by the State Military Tri forces resulting in the hospital being wrecked and abandoned. When a team of society members with their President returned to inspect the state of the hospital in 1996, they found it badly damaged by shelling and bombing and the place was looted with much equipment and furniture missing. Despite this destruction, the hospital was reopened in July 1996, with daily functioning the Out Patients Department. (http://moolaihospital.com/history/).
The reconstruction of the Moolai Hospital started in earnest from 2003 and continued during the 2002-2007 ceasefire. In this period funds were received from many Sri Lankan individuals and Diaspora organisations particularly in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. Also Invaluable financial support was provided by the British, Dutch, USA governments and from the state. As a result the hospital was able to restart Cardiology, Eye, Dental, Diabetes, Paediatric and Maternity Clinics; with a clinical laboratory, X-ray unit, operating theatre and an ambulance service. Many specialists from the Jaffna Teaching Hospital were invited as Consultants to attend to the needs travelling the 16km journey on depleted poor roads.
The revival of the hospital was held back with the restart of hostilities in 2007 until the war ended in 2009 and it has been not easy with more people returning to the peninsula in need of medical care and the hospital struggling with limited facilities was seen through the eyes of the present President Mr. M. Gnaneswaran. Then gradually the society began receiving generous support from individuals and organisations both overseas and in Sri Lanka; one such donor is a native of Moolai Dr. S. Rajasunderam a GP from Kent in the UK conducted a review of the hospital in 2016. He observed that a fully functioning hospital at Moolai would offer services to up to 180,000 people, providing primary care that would remove the need for many of them to travel 16 km to the Jaffna Teaching Hospital. Thus not only providing improved care locally, but also taking the pressure off the already overcrowded Teaching Hospital.
Dr. Rajasunderam, who is a regular visitor to the hospital has commented that the sheer cost in time and money of the trip from Moolai to the Jaffna Teaching Hospital means many don’t get their ailments treated at all, resulting in more severe consequences. He stated “The journey is costly as much as Rs2,000 (£10) on average, when a man’s daily wage is as little as Rs1,000 (£5) daily, via poorly maintained roads, taking as long 60 to 90 mins which can sometimes make the difference between life and death for many kids and pregnant mothers in labour with hardly any ante-natal care, Diabetic Ketoacidosis, which is still common due to poorly controlled Diabetes Mellitus, CHD, CVA, Head injury victims, Snake bite victims etc. Hence the need for modern ambulances, which is not available. This will no doubt be lifesaving, safer, quicker journey by ambulances with resuscitation commenced on the way”.
A three phase plan to renovate Moolai Hospital is currently in action. Phase 1, renovating the main building as an outpatient clinic and revitalising Gynaecological, Ante-Natal and Paediatric clinics, is complete and the inauguration of Phase 1 took place on 19th January 2018. The next two phases still require additional funding to reach the estimated budget of US$1 million. Phase 2 will create a Surgical Complex, including operating theatres, pre and post operation patient areas, and an Intensive Care Unit. Phase 3 will renovate staff quarters, the parking area, and pathways in the hospital complex.
The hospital has more to do even beyond these three phases, such as upgrading its Laboratory Services, providing rehabilitation and palliative care, and setting up a sub-fertility clinic and a further extension of the accommodation for elders. These are all areas the State Sector, with its own pressures and funding constraints, struggles to provide. To maximise its impact on community health, the hospital would also like to setup satellite clinics in the surrounding villages. Providing pre-emptive care, dealing with illness at an earlier stage before it becomes serious for the individual or spreads to the community.
The Moolai Hospital isn’t only trying to recapture its past glory. It is looking forward to the latest technologies, and by doing so is supporting Northern enterprise. Arogya.life, a software company based in Jaffna (https://arogya.life/), developed a hospital management system which it is installing at Moolai. This system is also successfully installed at the Hemas Hospitals, a leading health provider in Colombo, showing that Jaffna has the ability to compete head-to-head with IT companies in the capital city.
Earlier, a write up titled “Birth, Death and Rebirth of Jaffna’s Moolai Cooperative Hospital” written by Jekhan Aruliah, who says; “We as Sri Lankans are very reluctant to donate our time and money unless we know they are spent well. This includes me giving my time writing this article, as I know Mr.Gnaneswaran (Chairman of the Hospital Board) who has been a personal friend since I came to Jaffna in 2015. Even if I hadn’t known him the list of donors to the Hospital, including highly knowledgeable doctors’ organisations, is impressive. Apart from these organisations, many individuals too have donated sums ranging from a few thousand to over a million rupees. These donors have confidence in the hospital’s leadership to make donations running into millions of rupees”.
The Moolai Co-operative hospital is making an important contribution to the local economy, currently provides employment for a total 45 individuals; with 2 permanent doctors, 1 apothecary and 12 nurses. In addition specialist doctors visit as consultants make evening visits after duties travelling the 16 km from Jaffna Teaching Hospital. Ideally some of these specialists would be based permanently in Moolai were sufficient funds available. As well as clinical services, the hospital provides geriatric care including long term residential care at present for 20 elders for full service including meals, medical attention and rooms with ensued bathroom, the aims is to make this accessible for more ever increasing needy elderly population.