Helping Spinal Cord Injury Patients in Sri Lanka

Published: May 6, 2013  |  Source:

This is the only acute care rehab facility at a primary trauma centre in Sri Lanka. With low resources, awareness and 1800 injuries annually we need your help.

Spinal Cord Injury and Sri Lanka
Spinal cord injury has a devastating effect on a person’s life and their family.

Sri Lanka has a population of around 20 million people. It is estimated that roughly 1,800 spinal cord injuries take place in the country annually. In 2011, it was estimated that around 6 people a day may die from spinal cord injury without treatment. While life-expectancy for people who have suffered a spinal cord injury is around two years without rehabilitation, it is normal with rehabilitation.

The spinal unit based in Colombo is the only acute care rehab facility in primary trauma centre.

What do we do and where are we at?
Our job is to provide acute care at the beginning of an injury to prevent complications of paralysis.
The 18 month old unit is run by a group of extremely passionate doctors, nurses, therapists and support staff. They do an amazing job with what little resources they have.

What do we mean by low resources? Until recently, the physiotherapist was managing with 2kg sandbags as weights for exercising patients. The unit had very few catheters for intermittent catheterisation available. The staff have been waiting for a pat-slide to transfer patients from bed-to-bed for more than a year.

These are all things we take for granted back home in places like Australia and U.S.

What else is needed?
Apart from the unit itself, the organisation is currently building a half-way home to help patients transition from the unit to home and the community. This will hopefully serve as a model and provide skills for patients to survive when they return home.

A majority of the patients are from low income backgrounds and face enormous personal challenges due to a comparative lack of long term support. There is a needd for access to transport, long-term care or support services.

There is a huge focus on spinal cord research and cure at the moment which is fantastic. We desperately need a cure. At the same time, it’ll be great if we can support spinal cord injury patients and units like this who need help to get by.

With your help, this passionate unit can start to tackle the mammoth task of implementing a great care system for spinal cord injury patients.

Spinal Injury Costs for a Patient
Just to give you an idea, in the U.S, the average annual medical cost for a spinal injury patient according to the CDC is $15,000 to $30,000 per year. The estimated lifetime cost is $500,000 to more than $3 million depending on the severity of the injury.

Granted, Sri Lanka’s living costs are comparatively lower, but the average monthly household income is roughly USD$285. A lot of patients in the spinal unit come from low income backgrounds so their income can be less than a third of this figure.

While the country is developing quickly, spinal cord injury is not yet an area of focus so this issue as a whole as well as patients individually need a lot of help.

What We Need & What You Get
The unit currently needs the following equipment:

  • Pat-slide
  • Nelaton catheters (12G/14G)
  • Cervical collars (soft, hard and philadelphia)
  • Thoraco-lumbar corsets
  • Plastic bowls and basins
  • Air mattresses
  • Physiotherapy equipment

The organisation as a whole is currently doing the following things:

  • Building a transition / half-way home
  • Developing awareness and education campaigns for spinal cord injury patients
  • Developing long-term care and follow-up programs
  • Developing pre-hospital care programs
  • Developing education and training programs for other hospitals

Due to the devastating nature of the injury, patient morale can be quite low. So we hope to get some books for the patients depending on funding. The unit also requires some office consumables such as paper.

The unit is currently short around Rs. 3 or 4 million (roughly $25,000 – $30,000). The $5,000 goal will be a great start. Depending on how much funding we get, we can addresss each of these requirements in order of urgency and importance.

Spinal cord injury patients have a multitude of short and long term medical and social requirements. All this is still in its infancy so as you can imagine, this is a huge task.

Due to the shortage in funds, there aren’t many perks we can offer. If you have any ideas, please let us know.

The Impact
The impact of your contribution is tremendous. For example, $2-3 is enough to buy a catheter. We hope that soon, with your help, spinal cord injury patients from this unit will be able to return home to pick up their life again to the best of their ability.

Your contribution will empower the staff and the patients to achieve this goal.

Why do I care?
I suffered a spinal cord injury (cervical – C6/C7) myself. I feel fortunate to have had access to the rehabilitation, services and support I received. I feel like I have a responsibility to help people who have access to less. That’s why I’m trying to help.

Other Ways You Can Help
Awareness is a big thing. If you can spread the word, that helps a lot. In fact, awareness and education about spinal cord injury in Sri Lanka is one of the major goals of the organisation.

We’re open to any other ideas as well!

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