Bosnia: Hospitals need safe havens to operate: British doctor appeals for aid to victims under siege in other towns

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The Independent Online
A SENIOR British doctor has told the Government that, apart from high-profile airlifts of patients from Sarajevo, priority must be given to setting up safe havens in several besieged Bosnian cities to allow families to bring children to hospital without fear of being killed or injured, writes Leonard Doyle.

Professor David Southall, who travelled to Sarajevo at the weekend as an independent paedriatric consultant to the government, said in an interview yesterday that 'the United Nations needs to spend pounds 1bn to make the hospitals safe, bring in very good doctors and get electricity and water supplies operating'.

'The doctors and nurses in the hospitals require both general and specialist support,' he said in his report. Doctors and nurses from other countries are desperately required to work alongside local medics. Doctors are needed to care for children and adults and specialists are required to replace consultants who have been killed in the Serbian siege of the city.

'The dignity of the civilians of Sarajevo was almost beyond understanding,' Prof Southall stated. 'The women and children were well dressed, the streets clean, the many graveyards were beautifully tended . . . despite the unacceptable fear under which they live.'

Prof Southall stated that a properly organised safe-haven policy in Sarajevo and other cities 'would also result in the restoration of electricity and running water in the hospitals and enable incoming medical and nursing staff from other countries to work without the spectre of excessive risk.'

Priority should be given to getting medical treatment to injured civilians on the ground in Bosnia and medical safe havens should be set up as a matter of urgency in Zenica, Tuzla and Gorazde.

Prof Southall, who is based in North Staffordshire Hospital Centre, Stoke-on-Trent, stated that much could be done to reduce the administrative burden on the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Sarajevo when deciding on medical evacuations. 'Simple measures, such as the provision of Polaroid cameras or special cameras to take passport-sized photographs would be invaluable,' he stated.

He pointed out that UNHCR staff are under constant threat of death or injury while working in Bosnia, 'yet they are performing some of the most professionally organised of activities'. Last weekend a Bosnian UNHCR official was shot dead near Vitez. Prof Southall praises the organisation's work in transferring patients from hospitals to the airport as 'outstanding'. He said, however, that there needed to be an improvement in the emergency evacuation procedures for critically ill patients from Sarajevo.

Among the recommendations he made, Prof Southall said that special foods were urgently required to treat serious chronic illness such as cystic fibrosis and diabetes. At Sarajevo's Kosevo hospital, he was told of a newborn baby with a progressive brain disease who required a special diet to avoid further deterioration.

At the State Hospital in Sarajevo, there is an urgent need for large quantities of drugs. There are fewer than 10 paediatric patients at the State hospital at any one time, because all except those with chronic problems are discharged to the care of their families as soon as possible.

(Photographs omitted)