BELARUS, CHERNOBYL, AND THE CHERNOBYL CHILDRENS PROJECT
It is a country that lies in relative obscurity in the eastern European belt of recently liberated (and largely failing) states of the USSR, all of which gained independence at the end of the cold war in 1991. It has 10 million inhabitants and is a little smaller than Britain.
The political and social climate of Belarus is anything but progressive. One needs to go back centuries in order to recall a time when Belarus could be regarded as a prosperous state. Since those times invasion by the Poles, the aftermath of two world wars and the work of soviet planners has left the country a barren and featureless land. Hopes for a brighter future post-independence have been quashed under the autocratic leadership of Alexander Lukashenka, a man who has been described as the last undemocratically chosen leader in Europe. Lukashenka maintains strong links with Russia, to the extent that Belarussian economy is dependent on its controlling neighbour. In an election characterised by accusations of rigging and ballot-stuffing on 9th September this year Lukashenka was re-elected by a majority of 76%. With a leader who seems unable to look forward, a population who cannot look back to better times, and continuous decline in economic, social and health indicators it seems hard to be positive about the future in Belarus.
As may be expected, the health care service in Belarus is in a shambles. The national health service in weak and, although there are a large number of doctors and other health care staff, there are simply not enough resources to deal with the increasing burden created by social and ecological problems. The collapse of communism inevitably involved a huge shake-up in the economy, and healthcare spending dropped rapidly. The current level of expediture cannot fund the type of health care infrastructure instituted during Soviet rule. Reformation of the health service is required, but will not happen until there are political and economic reforms.
All this has led to an environment where the public and the children in general are ignored. The people (and especially the sick children) rely on support from charities such as the Chernobyl Childrens Project, who can act as both their supplier of care and advocate.
The Chernobyl disaster of 1986 brought a host of new problems to this already troubled land. Chernobyl is in the Ukraine, but over 70% of the fallout from the accident fell onto Belarus, leaving only 1% of its land uncontaminated. Only 10% of children born in Belarus today will live a life untouched by health problems related to the radiation they have been exposed to. This could mean congenital mutations or some types of cancer. Given the poor state and underfunding of the health service, treatment for these conditions (many of which are so rare that they have never been seen before) is almost impossible for these children to receive.
The Chernobyl Childrens Project
This registered charity supports the children of Belarus affected by the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant explosion of 1986. It has four main aims and objectives which it set out nearly six years ago.
"To bring children whose health has been affected by the Chernobyl accident for recuperative holidays in England, Scotland and Wales."
"To send medical, and other humanitarian aid to the Chernobyl affected areas of Belarus and Western Russia, seeking as far as possible to match the aid to the requests received from hospitals, schools and childrens homes."
"To initiate, design and fund projects which improve the living standards of families, hospitals and schools affected by the worlds worst environmental catastrophe."
"To educate the public about the health and environmental effects of the Chernobyl disaster, their long term nature, and the implications for the future of nuclear power."
MedEx is mainly involved in assisting the charity in the second of these objectives.
Links to other sites:
To assist groups supplying medical equipment, education and support to areas where present resources are insufficient
The idea stemmed from contact with a charity called The Chernobyl Childrens Project which (amongst many other activities) collects medical equipment to send to Belarus.
MedEx became established as a MedSIN project in January 2001, and later registered as an official Manchester University Society.
MedEx fulfils the ideology of MedSIN in that it promotes humanitarian issues both globally and locally. It is based on the principle of provision of resources from richer countries to those countries that are not currently able to support themselves.
MedEx works with pre-exisiting groups, hence involves local organisation and co-ordination (a more realistic objective than a large-scale international project). However, we retain the excitement of having international connections.
MedEx members are often based in or near hospitals, ideally located to find potential suppliers of medical equipment and also establish contacts with sympathetic health care workers/technicians.
The Chernobyl Childrens Project Headquarters is in Glossop, close to Manchester. This is obviously a geographical advantage for MedEx as most of the transport for the convoys departs from this area, making our task of delivering equipment that much easier!
MEDEX SO FAR
Large poster campaigns and advertising amongst hospital departments has led to the collection of equipment such as:
Disability living aids, eg crutches, petrie boots
Audiometry sets ?!?
Baby sleep apnoea alarms
Feeding tubes and syringes
And miscellaneous other devices which have now been taken over to Belarus.
Importantly, MedEx has worked hard to spread its name throughout the Manchester hospitals and establish contacts with sympathetic staff.
A group of 5 Manchester and 3 Birmingham medical students were able to go to Belarus in the summer of 2001 to work as volunteers at a summer camp for disabled children. The camp was run by the Chernobyl Childrens Project. In order to raise funds for the camp MedEx organised many events including a charity Bed Push through Manchester city centre. This alone raised over 800!
MedEx has also been promised 1000 free boxes to collect medical equipment in GP surgeries across Manchester. This will be one of the aspects of MedEx in the future.
MEDEX IN THE FUTURE
At present MedEx has a depleted committee and needs enthusiastic members to provide vision and energy.
We need to maintain the contacts and publicity already achieved, whilst also moving into new areas.
We also need to continue our fundraising activitieswith the emphasis being on FUN!!!!
Already we have been able to provide some assistance to other charities, but in the future we may be able to expand this assistance further.