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Tuesday, September 21, 1999 Published at 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK


Babies die in Kosovo aftermath

Newborns face "grim" maternity wards

There has been a massive rise in the number of babies being born early in Kosovo - and half of them are dying, the United Nations has said.

Kosovo: Special Report
The organisation's population fund blamed the increase on the trauma to women of the recent war in the province.

The situation is further complicated by a shortage of medical equipment, meaning the premature babies have to share incubators.

Corrie Shanaghan, a spokeswoman for the fund, said the same effect had been seen in the aftermath of wars in other areas, which showed the need for more psychological services in war zones.


"Because of the trauma and stress and poor nutrition experienced by women during the fighting a lot of women are giving birth prematurely," Ms Shanaghan, who has just returned from Kosovo, said.

"The situation in the hospitals is pretty grim."

She described how the biggest hospital in the capital Pristina was delivering 30 babies a day - an unusually high birth rate.

The shortages even extended to basic equipment such as washing machines, while staff were poorly trained.

Serbs had staffed the hospitals for 10 years by, but when they fled at the end of the war it was up to ethnic Albanians - who had been denied training under the previous regime - to take over.

Mental repair

Ms Shanaghan said psychological services were needed in Kosovo to help victims overcome their experiences.

"In one village a doctor told us he was seeing 40 patients a day and a large proportion were people who were suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder," she said.

[ image: The UN was attacked for distributing morning-after pills]
The UN was attacked for distributing morning-after pills
"Counselling is needed by the many women who have lost their husbands and returned home to find their houses in ruins."

She also defended the fund's decision to distribute morning-after pills to rape victims in Kosovo, a policy that the Vatican had condemned.

"It was not an issue for the Kosovars," Ms Shanaghan said.

"The morning-after pill has been available in Kosovo and Albania for many years and is fairly widely-known.

"Unfortunately, in many cases it was too late for women who had been raped. The morning-after pill only works within 72 hours of the event and was not available to many women within that time."

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