Intended for healthcare professionals


Cause of death of Sri Lankan migrant workers employed in the Middle East

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 19 October 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:861
  1. D M P Samarakkody, public health inspector,
  2. Pushpa Jayawardana, senior lecturer (pushpa{at},
  3. Chrishantha Abeysena, senior lecturer
  1. Health Office, Bandaranayake International Airport, Katunayake, Sri Lanka
  2. Department of Community and Family Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, Ragama, Sri Lanka

    EDITOR—With the introduction of the free trade policy, avenues have been opened for blue collar workers to obtain employment in the Middle East. The required funds to get to the destinations are often obtained through loans, workers mortgaging their few assets in anticipation of improving their living standards. From time to time, however, the harassment inflicted on these workers, often leading to disability and death, is reported in the print and the electronic media.15

    A descriptive study was carried out to determine the cause of death as indicated on the death certificates received with the remains of Middle East migrant workers between 1 January and 31 May 2002 at the Health Office of the International Airport, Sri Lanka.

    Eighty six (67%) dead people arrived from the Middle East during this time, their ages ranging from 20 to 70; 47 were men.

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    Of the 86 deaths, 42 were related to traumatic injuries. These included 17 road traffic accidents, 4 falls, 2 work related injuries, 13 intentional self harm, 2 assaults (reported as criminal deaths), and 4 of undetermined intent. Thirty one were due to medical causes. Three deaths were without death certificates, and for 10 the cause of death indicated was non-specific. Only the former three deaths were subjected to postmortem examinations in Sri Lanka.

    Eighteen of the 47 men (38%) were employed as drivers, and 34 of the 39 women (87%) as housemaids. The highest proportionate mortality (n = 34; 40%) was for the housemaids; the drivers ranked second (n = 18; 21%).

    This study highlights several deficiencies in the reporting of causes of death. Non-use of the international form of medical certificate of cause of death is one of them. This format is recommended for national and international purposes since it ensures uniformity and comparability. Next is the lack of proper English translations, with the correct use of medical terms.

    Dead people who arrive without a death certificate or a specific cause of death and those reported as criminal deaths are released without further investigation if no request is made by the relatives. This is unsatisfactory as these deaths should at least have an inquest according to the existing laws of Sri Lanka. Action should be initiated promptly and completed in a short time, as delays will discourage the grieving relatives from adhering to the formalities. Any legal costs should be borne by Sri Lanka's government.


    • Competing interests None declared.


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