Cruel Bosnian winter killing hospital patients

November 19, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

SARAJEVO, BOSINA-HERZEGOVINA — SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- As warring factions negotiate in Geneva, a team of doctors in Sarajevo are surrendering to the bitter cold.

Winter, they say, has brought with it a terrible irony: It could turn them into killers.

The volunteer doctors from Britain have been performing surgery on war victims, many of whom have lost the use of hands or legs. Now, cold and hunger are making such operations deadly.

"It didn't take an increase in shelling -- all it took was the onset of winter cold on an undernourished population," says Philip Garvin of the Humanitarian Aid Medical Development (HAMD) organization, which brought the doctors here.

"We have arrived at an impasse . . . Since last month, we have charted an increase in postoperative infections and complications. It is now not in the interest of the patients that we perform nonlife-saving surgery. Many are now too undernourished to survive."

Mr. Garvin said yesterday hat "heating both during and after surgery is nonexistent. Patients are expected to recover in icy conditions."

While Bosnian doctors concentrate on emergency life-saving cases, the British doctors arrived in June to do reconstructive surgery on paralyzed limbs. But surgery, which once could mean the regained use of a hand, now could mean amputation, even death.

"I wouldn't have it done on me, and that's the criterion I go by," Dr. John Durcan says. "It's bad enough that people have to suffer war injuries, but then to suffer further in the hospital -- it's just one tragedy after another."

The United Nations estimates that some 2.7 million people need help.

After a day of talks in Geneva, the leaders of Bosnia's Muslims, Serbs and Croatians signed a six-point declaration fulfilling key U.N. demands to keep convoys rolling over the coming winter months.

On the sidelines, Bosnia's Muslim prime minister, Haris Silajdzic, met for three hours with Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and said afterward they had agreed to continue talking about ending the war.

As part of the aid agreement, signed by Messrs. Silajdzic, Karadzic and Bosnian Croatian chief Mate Boban, the three sides agreed to "suspend hostilities" along convoy routes.

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