'NATO causing medical catastrophe'

From Times of India, May 26
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. »

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 affecting the functioning of hospitals and there was not enough diesel to power back-up generators even in emergency situations. Dr Milicivic said those at greatest risk were 300 premature babies in incubators, 9,500 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 and added, « 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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