Helping children heal from the Easter Sunday Bombing

Emma Brigham, UNICEF
March 14, 2022

2019 Easter Sunday 

On Easter Sunday in April 2019,  eight coordinated explosions in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa targeted  churches and high-end hotels, killing 259 people including 66 children, and  injured more than 500 people.

The Zion Church in Batticaloa was  one of the targets. 30 lives were lost; amongst them 13 children. Further, 13  children were injured and over 600 children and their families faced  psychosocial trauma as a result of this attack.

As a response, with the financial  assistance from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade  (DFAT), UNICEF provided essential medical equipment for emergency paediatric  care, and strengthened the Government’s capacity to manage and respond to the  critical requirements of child protection and psychosocial support for the  victims. 

Overcoming challenges

A disaster of this magnitude was not  something the authorities were prepared for; the urgency and extent of the  disaster meant that immediate identification and response to the critical  needs of the injured was required to minimize the number of deaths and assist  in the recovery – short- and long-term – of those who survived.  

Due to the lack of equipment to  manage paediatric and neonatal resuscitation, the Accident and Emergency Unit  of the Batticaloa Teaching Hospital faced challenges in responding to the  medical emergency. This resulted in paediatric emergency care for the injured  children being provided in the high-dependency unit of the adult surgical  unit, risking the loss of valuable lifesaving time.

Further challenges were faced by  the authorities in the child protection front; coordinating and providing the  necessary childcare services and addressing the psychosocial needs of victims.  

Responding to requirements

©UNICEF/Sri Lanka/Ravindran
Handing over of medical equipment to the Batticaloa Teaching Hospital byUNICEF through DFAT. 2019

With financial support from DFAT,  UNICEF supported the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs (MoWCA) and the Ministry  of Health (MOH) in assessing the situation of children and women, providing  services, coordinating the collection of data and response, and procuring  essential paediatric medical equipment to ensure that children and  adolescents were prioritized in the response.

The provision of critical medical equipment enabled management of paediatric patients  in the Accident and Emergency Unit, ensuring early effective management of injured  children.

To build Government capacity in  responding to matters related to child protection in the aftermath of the  disaster, UNICEF strengthened the functioning of the Child Protection Unit  (CPU) at the Batticaloa Teaching Hospital. This included renovation of the  unit, making it accessible and child-friendly, and providing necessary  equipment.  

The funding also enabled the  training of 35 Government Officers on mental health and counselling, enabling  them to support more than 300 people , requiring psychosocial services.

Helping children heal; short- and long-term assistance

©UNICEF/SriLanka 2019
Meshak Mahendra, 14, optimistic about his recovery and continues to stay active indoors

Meshak Mahendran, 14, survived the bomb blast, but his  ten-year-old brother Jebishan was not so fortunate. “The children are usually  dropped off at church for Sunday School at 7.30 a.m. and we join them at 9  a.m. for the church service,” says Premini, his mother. “That day, as we were  approaching the church, we heard a loud sound. Meshak was thrown back by the  force of the blast and was saved. We identified the body of our other son in  hospital.”

Meshak did, however, suffered burn injuries on his face and was struck on his head and legs with shrapnel, and received treatment at the Batticaloa Teaching Hospital. There is still shrapnel embedded in him and he experiences  recurring headaches and will need long-term medical attention; his recovery –  both physical and psychological – will take its course.

But Meshak shows optimism, which defies his health condition. “I  can’t go outdoors just yet because my skin is sensitive and hasn’t healed  fully. But it won’t take long. My friends spend a lot of time with me at home  now. I am playing indoor games, so I am grateful for this gift of a  basketball. I will go back to school as soon as the doctors say it is okay.”

Apart from Meshak, 12 children who  were injured in the Easter Sunday Bombing and other daily admitted  children  continue to benefit  from the strengthened capacity of the  Batticaloa Teaching Hospital. The provision of medical equipment as well as institution  capacity building by UNICEF through DFAT will continue to provide lifesaving  health services, child protection and psychosocial support for many years to  come.

The long-standing partnership  between UNICEF, the Government of Sri Lanka, and the Government of Australia, through the generous financial  contribution from the people of the Government of Australia, enabled this timely humanitarian assistance in support of the children in Sri Lanka.