Education And Debate

Letter from Sarajevo: On a front line

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: (Published 22 April 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:1052
  1. Lynne Jones, consultant to Catholic Relief Services and Medecins Sans Frontieresa
  1. a Institute of Family Psychiatry, Ipswich IP1 3TF

    Like the patients, doctors in Sarajevo depend largely on humanitarian aid; everyone in the public sector has worked without pay for almost three years. The hospital is on a front line; yet the psychiatric department continues to function, even conducting large scale studies of psychosocial aspects of war in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The type of inpatient morbidity and treatment patterns have changed. A plethora of psychosocial rehabilitation programmes has emerged, including counselling, drop in centres, and attending to special needs of elderly people, schoolchildren, and women. The most prominent psychological symptoms were exhaustion at the prospect of a third winter of war and bewilderment at the Western stereotype of Bosnians as Muslim fundamentalists.

    When Christiana Amanpour of CNN came to visit the Bjelave kindergarten, perched on a hill above the Kosevo Hospital in Sarajevo, she asked if there were any children. “No, not any more,” Dr Amira Teftedarija replied. “Raped women?” “No.” “Well, traumatised soldiers perhaps?” “No, this is the home of seventy chronic schizophrenics.” “No story there then,” said the star journalist, retreating with her cameras; which is a pity, because although the members of this tiny multiethnic community lack underwear, socks, shoes, bedlinen, and fruit and vegetables, they certainly have a story.

    When the war began in Bosnia-Hercegovina in April 1992, the patients were part of a population of 350 at the Jagomir hospital, 2 km from the former Olympic stadium. Bosnian Serb forces, with the assistance of the Yugoslav Federal Army, rapidly occupied two thirds of the country, including this part, and, according to Dr Teftedarija, all non-Serb doctors were forced to leave in May 1992. The patients were evicted the following month. Ninety of them found their own way across front lines and into the city, where they were housed in the kindergarten. For the first two winters …

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