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Personal and professional challenges in the management of deliberate self-poisoning patients in rural Sri Lanka: a qualitative study of rural hospital doctors' experiences and perceptions

Lalith Senarathna1*, Jon Adams2, Dhammika De Silva3, Nick A Buckley14 and Andrew H Dawson15

Author Affiliations

1 South Asian Clinical Toxicology Research Collaboration, Faculty of Medicine, University of Peradeniya, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka

2 Discipline of Social Science, School of Population Health, University of Queensland, QLD, Australia

3 Planning unit, Provincial Director of Health Services office, North Central Province, Sri Lanka

4 POW Hospital Clinical School, University of NSW, Australia

5 School of Population Health, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:373  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-373

Published: 28 October 2008



Deliberate self-poisoning is a major public heath issue in developing countries. In rural Sri Lanka deliberate self-poisoning is one of the leading causes of hospital death. The majority of patients with poisoning present to rural hospitals for initial treatment that are staffed by non-specialist and often relatively junior doctors. The treatment of self-poisoning patients poses numerous clinical challenges and further difficulties are experienced if patients are uncooperative and aggressive, intoxicated with alcohol or suffering mental illness. Previous research in developed countries has examined self-poisoning patients and their treatment but little is know about self-poisoning patient care in the context of rural health provision in developing countries. This study provides the first focused exploration of the experiences and perceptions of primary care rural hospital doctors in Sri Lanka toward the treatment of self-poisoning patients.


Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with fifteen doctors from rural hospitals in the North Central Province, Sri Lanka. All interviews were recorded and transcribed and subject to thematic analysis.


Participating doctors did perceive that treating self-poisoning patients in a primary care rural hospital as potentially confidence-building. However, resource issues such as the lack of medication, equipment and staffing were seen as important challenges to treating self-poisoning patients. Other challenges identified included disparity with community and other staff members regarding expectations of care, a sense of professional isolation and a lack of continuing education programs.


Addressing professional isolation through educational and trainee programs for doctors and reducing the variance in expectations between professional groups and the community has the potential to improve delivery of care for self-poisoning patients.