Letters

Number of land mine victims in Kosovo is high

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.319.7207.450 (Published 14 August 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:450
  1. E G Krug, medical officer (kruge{at}who.ch),
  2. A A Gjini, medical officer
  1. Violence and Injury Prevention, Department for Disability, Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation, Social Change and Mental Health, World Health Organisation, CH-1211 Geneva, Switzerland
  2. World Health Organisation, Pristina, Kosovo

    EDITOR—On 9 June 1999, the governments of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and of the Republic of Serbia signed a military technical agreement with the NATO-led international security force (KFOR) concerning the situation in Kosovo. During the following four weeks more than 650 000 Kosovar refugees returned home. The number of people with fatal and non-fatal injuries caused by antipersonnel mines needs to be determined to plan mine awareness and demining campaigns accordingly.

    On 7-14 July 1999, the World Health Organisation conducted an assessment to determine the number of people with mine injuries in Kosovo since 13 June; the circumstances in which the injuries occur; and the additional burden that their consequences impose on Kosovo's health system. Data were collected in Kosovo's six hospitals and from the database maintained by NATO forces in Kosovo. The additional number of fatalities and light injuries was estimated on the basis of interviews with the patients.

    During the four weeks after 13 June, an estimated 150 people were maimed or killed by explosions of mines or unexploded ordnance in Kosovo. This corresponds to a monthly incidence rate of 10 per 100 000 population (an annualised rate of 120 per 100 000). Seventy one per cent of the survivors are younger than 24 years. Most (95%) are boys or men. Nineteen per cent of the 75 patients interviewed were injured during demining efforts conducted by the Kosovo Liberation Army. In some areas 35% and 42% of hospital beds in the surgical and orthopaedic wards were occupied by survivors of explosions of mines or unexploded ordnance.

    After months of suffering, for those affected, returning home often has not meant returning to safety. The incidence of injuries and deaths caused by mines or unexploded ordnance exceeds that found in many other countries affected by antipersonnel mines, such as Mozambique, Afghanistan, or Cambodia.14 It is expected to remain high as the population has not yet started to return to the fields or pastures and the collection of firewood for the winter is expected to start in September.

    Mines and unexploded ordnance are a public health problem, not only because they kill and maim, but also because they drain resources from an already depleted health system. To achieve an appropriate response, a surveillance system must be developed to monitor the situation.5 The study confirms that current efforts at raising mine awareness and demining should be encouraged and increased. Awareness raising efforts should target especially young men and children and, as in any other country, the international community should first train and equip the local deminers.

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