Indian medical teams to Albania for Kosovo refugee relief
Progress report as at: 25 May 1999
1. Phase one of the project has been implemented and Paul East (SADP) has returned to London to follow up and establish phase two.
2. Paul East travelled to Athens on 12 May to organise and check on visas, accommodation and travel arrangements for the team in Greece and as far as Tirana.
3. 13 May - news received from Delhi that only 4 transit visas had been granted by the Greek Embassy, despite assurances that all 10 were approved. Urgent consultation by telephone, with a sPaul Eastcial advisor to the Foreign Minister of Greece, rePaul Eastated over the next 3 days. EHA team in Delhi advised to postpone arrival and seek alternative flights - successfully done and team rescheduled to arrive 17 May.
4. Export licence to bring a consignment of drugs from India stuck between the Reserve Bank of India, the Drug InsPaul Eastctorate and the Ministry of Health, Govt. of India. Considerable frustration, but the greatest need is for the manpower on the ground in Albania. North West Medical Teams is able to obtain a supply of EuroPaul Eastan manufactured drugs through UNHCR.
5. 17th May Paul East at Athens airport, eagerly looking out for Dr Shah and his team, and that the immigration authorities would let them through smoothly. Good news that 5 doctors, 2 nurses and 3 other staff came through together with Rs 15,000 of essential medicines purchased before their departure. Passports and photos were immediately sent off to the Albanian Embassy for the entry visas (not possible in India, as Albania has no consulate). Two hours later thanks to prior consultation with the Ambassador, through a Greek contact, the team have the necessary documentation on a Monday afternoon as a sPaul Eastcial consideration.
6. After a couple of hours rest, in the basement of the Greek Evangelical Church, Paul East and team embarked on the 20-hour bus journey to Tirana. Only a few days earlier the same bus had been held up by bandits in a remote part of Albania and four passengers shot.
7. Once in Albania, after a 2 hour border delay the bus travelled along narrow country roads with huge potholes. Exhausted, the team arrived in Tirana (the capital) that evening to a warm welcome, a shower and a night's rest. 17 May Next morning, after a brief orientation - 4.5 hour minibus ride (covering less than 100 miles!) to Shkodra. Traces of winter snow visible on the hilltops and thick grey cloud over the town.
8. Shkodra town, close to the border with Montenegro accommodates about 30,000 refugees and numbers are growing as people arrive across the border from Montenegro as well as from Kosovo. Many are living with Albanian families, as paying guests. UNHCR is worried what will happen when their money runs out. Camp management is now well established under UNHCR guidelines. Each camp has a co-ordinating committee with four functions contracted out to agencies; shelter, food, water/sanitation and health. North West Medical Teams are responsible for primary health for 25,000 refugees with hospital care provided by the Albanian Government and the field hospital established by the Austrian Army.
9. The biggest camp, on the edge of town, houses more than 4000 refugees in a derelict tobacco factory. Living like battery hens on 4 floors this is one of the toughest locations. The danger with the hot weather coming is that cholera will break out. EHA has provided Dr Anil Cherian a public health specialist and epidemiologist and may prove to be the vital member of the team for this reason.
10.20th May, 8a.m. half the EHA team started work at the tobacco factory, alongside the American/Dutch team due to return shortly. Average number of 200 sick per day in this camp. Other team members run a clinic in tented camp and all take their turn at a railway station where everyday NATO trucks bring 1,000 refugees 8 hours across the mountains and transfer them to a train going south. The elderly and the sick need a 'medical buffet' on the platform to help them on their way. Two new camps open within the week and the EHA teams will take up medical duties there also.
11. Teams work 8am to 5pm. Aid personnel are not allowed in camps after then. Agencies contract an Albanian doctor for night emergencies. Team are not allowed out of their accommodation in the town after 8.30 pm. Voluntary curfew accepted by all UNHCR bodies - street crime is out of control after dark.
12. Tom Ardavany, Medical Co-ordinator, North West Medical Teams International, (Albania) said of the EHA team on their first day, "Your team is great, they hit the road running!"
13.Team will start their return journey on 10 June, overland to Athens. Second team plan to leave Delhi 26 June, with 5 doctors, 4 nurses, 1 lab. technician and I administrator.
14. Paul East left Shkodra 20 May, very encouraged that in spite of the many difficulties and delays the team is in place and making an excellent contribution to the victims of this human disaster.
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