26 May 1999

'Nato causing medical catastrophe'

26 May 1999
The Times of India

'NATO causing medical catastrophe’

By Siddharth Varadarajan

BELGRADE: Every time there is an air raid warning -- and that
means every night and sometimes every afternoon -- all the 100-odd
patients of the Institute for Mental Health are bundled out of bed
and rushed to the basement of the hospital for protection from NATO
bombs. ``This is very traumatic for them’’ said Dr Smijlka Popovic,
head of the children and adolescent department, ``but we cannot take
the risk of not shifting them. Certainly not after what happened to
the Dragisa Misovic hospital last week’’.

The Dragisa Misovic hospital in central Belgrade was struck
by NATO bombs, killing two patients and a guard.

With NATO stepping up its attacks on power stations across Yugoslavia,
however, doctors and patients have begun to fear something more
than a direct hit. According to Dr Leposava Milisivic, Serbia’s
minister of health, the repeated disruption of the country’s power
and water supply is leading to a ``medical catastrophe’’. She told a
press conference on Tuesday that as a result of NATO’s new
targeting strategy, thousands of patients were in direct
danger. The lack of power and water was severely affecting the
normal functioning of hospitals and there was not enough diesel to
power back-up generators even in emergency situations.

Dr Milisivic said those at greatest risk were 300 premature
babies in incubators, 9500 patients in intensive care, 2000 patients
requiring dialysis and 400 cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy.
Besides, more than 1000 patients need to undergo major operations,
13,000 are awaiting critical lab results and 500 patients are in need of
computerised brain scams. These figures are for Serbia as a whole. She
said all diagnostic and curative machines need constant and invariable
voltage and that frequent power breakdowns and surges had ruined a lot
of expensive equipment. ``If NATO persists in this strategy’’, she said,
``we will be the healthiest nation in the world because everyone who is
not healthy will be dead’’. In the Premature Baby Institute alone, she
claimed, the latest mortality figures indicate an eight per cent
increase over last year.

In Novi Sad, where NATO has destroyed all the bridges over the
Danube, renal patients on one side of the city have been unable to
travel to the other side for their daily dialysis treatment. The
authorities have managed to shift some equipment across the river but
treatment schedules have been badly disrupted.

The chairperson of the Yugoslav committee for cooperation with
UNICEF, Ms Margit Savovic, predicts that after the war is over, the
country would experience a fall in birth rate, a deterioration in
people’s immune system and an increase in the number of malignant
disorders. Children, she said, already accounted for 30 per cent of the
1200 civilians killed so far by NATO bombing but the number of those who
are wounded physically and psychologically is much higher.

According to Dr Popovic, children have been particularly
traumatised by NATO’s intensive bombing of urban areas. ``Since the
bombing started, children are forced to experience sirens, air attacks,
blasts’’, she said. ``They have to go down to bomb shelters to protect
themselves’’. Small children, and even babies, have become very
sensitive to sirens. Their sleep patterns have been disrupted and they
are not eating well. ``Many children are hyper-sensitive to any sound
that is loud. A passing bus, anything.’’

Dr Popovic told me about the case of a 17-year-old girl who is
currently undergoing treatment in her hospital. She lived in a church
close to the house of President Slobodan Milosevic, which NATO hit with
a large number of missiles more than three weeks ago. ``She is like a
small beast in an acute state of anxiety, always trembling. She feels
comforted only when we embrace her. But when the air raid warnings
start, she starts crying again.’’

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