A Historic Institution
The founding of Moolai Co-operative MCH (MCH) created a Co-operative history in the sphere of health services in Sri Lanka. Co-operative ventures have been looked upon favorably within the Sri Lankan Tamil community not only in our homeland, but was also successfully applied in Malaya. Many Sri Lankan Tamils who migrated to work in the civil services during the British Empire era and returned in the 1930s to Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka) helped to set up the Jaffna Co-operative Society, which provided scholarships and financial support to aspiring youngsters within our community.
The principle of using a co-operative venture for the eradication of illness was a unique and new idea at the time – it had never been even contemplated before. MCH carried this idea to execution brilliantly. It was a shining example and a source of inspiration for the establishment of similar institutions at Matara, Bandarawela, Sandalankawa, Tellipallai and in other parts of the island.
Way back in 1935, driven by a sense of philanthropy and charitable motivation, combined with a lack of medical facilities, a handful of members in Moolai opened a co-operative dispensary to provide medical facilities at minimum or no cost to those who were in need. Dr. Kanagarayar who returned from Malaya is credited with being the founding father.
This institution was registered under the Co-operative Ordinance on 4 April 1936 (registration No. J/82), and because of its phenomenal success as a charitable service, it was subsequently registered as a charity in Sri Lanka in 1953. It made rapid progress and blossomed into a fully-fledged MCH with 105 beds, a well-equipped Surgical theatre, and a Maternity unit with excellent facilities for Antenatal and Postnatal care.
MCH is designed to provide a variety of care to the local communities, including the elderly and infirm members, whose families are unable to provide this. In addition to providing out-patient consultations as a Primary Care Center by MCH resident doctors, it has facilities for the consultants from Jaffna Teaching Hospital to provide Specialist consultation. MCH was well established and gave excellent in-patient secondary care in various disciplines: such as general surgery, general medicine, maternity services, paediatrics, gynaecology etc, after the second world war years until the start of the communal strife that engulfed the north and east of the island in the early 1980s. Because of the army occupation and safety concerns both staffs and local community fled the area, thus depriving MCH and other private institutions of providing services and earning any income. Thus, during most part of 1985-2005 many of the MCH buildings that got damaged by bombs and shells remained derelict. Many of these buildings, which were well maintained before the communal strife started, were donated mainly by doctors who worked here, their families and well-wishers of the MCH.
This MCH serves patients of all income groups, at very affordable costs which has been its hallmark since its inception. It serves several hundred thousand population in the Jaffna Peninsula and the other districts of the north and east of Sri Lanka.
The fact that during the forty years after the 2nd World War many Prime Ministers, a Governor General and British High Commissioners had visited the MCH, seen for themselves its good upkeep and services, particularly the excellent quality of care being provided, and hailed it illustrates the stature and phenomenal reputation of MCH then. It is also noteworthy that one of the most famous names in the Tamil film world, the late Padmashree Sivaji Ganeshan, visited and showed his love and affection for the suffering Jaffna Tamil community following the massacre they had endured in the 1958 communal riots. He brought a team of famous fellow artists from South India and performed in Jaffna to raise a massive donation to help the MCH.
Sivaji Ganeshan seen here with two of the legends of MCH Dr. Chakko and Mr. P.M. Sangarapillai in 1958.
Extract from the message sent by Hon. Sir O.E. Goonetilleke, Minister of Agriculture & Food, and later the Governor- General of Ceylon.
“The story of the foundation of the Co-operative Hospital reminds one of the celebrated story of the first Co-operative pioneers of Rochdale in 1844, We have every reason to be proud of our own Moolai Pioneers. This Unique institution and the several Co-operative Hospitals based on this example which have since been established in other parts of Island are the noblest monuments these selfless men can have.”
— Hon. Sir O.E. Goonetilleke–
Extract from the message sent by Mr.S.C. Fernando, Commissioner of Co-operative Development and Registrar of Co-operative Societies.
“Moolai is a noble example, has inspired over half a dozen such institutions throughout the Island and when these become in a network as no doubt soon they will, Ceylon Co-operation in Health will have reason to tread its steps towards Moolai in veneration, for decades to come, in the same manner as the Co-operative world pilgrims its way today to Rochdale.”
— Mr.S.C. Fernando —
Visits by Distinguished Persons
Governor–Generals of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Prime Ministers, Ministers and several distinguished officials from Uganda, Fiji, Sarawak, Sudan Nepal, Indonesia, India, Northern Rhodesia, Gold Coast, Malaya, Cyprus, Zanzibar, Thailand, Burma, Singapore, Philippines, Tanganyika, Iran and Hong Kong have visited the MCH and appreciated its co-operative module for running a medical institution.
Establishment of North Ceylon Medical College
In 1985, MCH attracted the attention of private medical practitioners who were looking for a suitable institution to establish a private medical college to teach medicine and to undertake medical research. After negotiations, Moolai Co-operative Hospital Society Ltd leased the institution to North Lanka College of Medical Practitioners to carry out medical education whilst operating the MCH with the same objectives as when it started. Though the Medical College started with much enthusiasm, the progress was hampered and eventually it ceased to function.
Deteriorating Situation Since 1990
Karainagar Island of the Jaffna District was occupied by the security forces in 1990. This led to the closure of the causeway connecting Karainagar Island with the Jaffna Peninsula at Ponnalai, which is about 1 km from the Moolai Co-operative MCH. From that time onwards, the security situation in the vicinity of the MCH was tense. The situation gradually worsened and came to a climax during October-November 1995, when the security forces kept advancing towards Jaffna Town and there were frequent shelling and bombing targeting many areas of the Town and neighbouring villages, including Valikamam-West, where the MCH is located. Whole communities started fleeing from all these areas. At that stage, the MCH was abandoned.
Damage Caused to the Hospital
After the closure of the Karainagar Causeway in 1990, there was frequent shelling in Moolai – Ponnalai area and buildings were badly damaged. On 22.8.1990 the MCH was bombed causing damage to buildings, equipment, furniture, fittings and machinery. Later when the MCH was abandoned in November 1995, during the mass displacement of people from Valikamam-West, many items of equipment, furniture and fittings were lost. Due to the uncertain security situation that prevailed after that, the buildings were not maintained for a long period. As a result, the buildings deteriorated much further.
Situation After April 1996
By early 1996, the Security Forces occupied the Jaffna Peninsula. From the latter part of April, 1996, the people who were displaced from Valikamam-West started returning to their homes. The MCH was reoccupied in July 1996 and the O.P.D was opened on all days of the week from 9.00 am to 4.00pm. The laboratory functioned two days in a week. Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Eye Surgeon, Dental Surgeon and Physician from Teaching Hospital, Jaffna started conducting clinics at the MCH. These clinics enable patients any consultant doctor with ease at MCH. Otherwise, would have to travel 14 kms to Jaffna.
The MCH is located 1km away from the sea along the west coast of the Peninsula -famously known as Casuarina beach – in quiet surroundings. It provides a congenial environment, conducive to the speedy recovery of patients. The ideal location of the MCH has been confirmed by many visitors from Colombo and abroad.
A Safe Heaven
MCH is a landmark in the development of our country not only in the matter of health services but also in the sphere of co-operative development. This institution was a beacon in the co-operative horizon of this country, and a safe heaven for many a family. The MCH which created a co–operative history is a pride to the nation, and if it is given a new lease of life, MCH will once again become the shining example it once was. It is the duty of all those who have benefited from this institution due its superb health care as well as social and cultural activities to rise to the occasion by making their contributions to restore MCH – it could then rediscover its former glory.