Charity to fly in 100 sick children

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The Independent Online

The Government has issued 100 special visas to enable sick children from the former Yugoslavia to receive specialist medical treatment in British hospitals. The visas, which will be used by a newly launched charity, Child Advocacy International, will more than double the number of medically evacuated children the United Kingdom has taken from the former Yugoslavia since 1992.

The director of the charity, Dr David Southall, professor of paediatrics at Keele University, said yesterday that with the consequences of the war "it may well take 10 years before hospitals and health care in former Yugoslavia return to normal."

The new charity, which is backed by the United Nations, has estimated that at least 750 children in the war-torn region need specialist hospital treatment. It aims to evacuate 100 children, and return them home after medical treatment. It estimates that it will cost pounds 10,000 per child, for treatment and the accommodation of a parent and other dependent siblings. The cost of the project is put at pounds 1m.

Professor Southall was the senior paediatrician who assisted in Operation Irma, the controversial government-backed plan which brought an injured Bosnian girl to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London in 1993. After lengthy treatment the childdied in hospital earlier this year.

The case highlighted the arguments over the ethics of international medical evacuation. However, Professor Southall defended the decision to bring Irma to the UK stating: "I knew her well and without being evacuated she had no chance of survival." Professor Southall said it was important that the project did not interfere with waiting lists. Since 1992, Britain, with its population of 57 million, has taken 85 sick children and adults from the war regions of former Yugoslavia. Denmark, with a population of 5.1 million, has taken 375.

Child Advocacy International yesterday appealed to companies, organisations and individuals to assist financially in helping to sponsor children and their families.