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Wartime Medical Aid Now A Threat To Bosnia

The health ministry warned that expired drugs could be detrimental to the health of Bosnia's 3.8 million people.
by Tanja Subotic
Sarajevo (AFP) Aug 10, 2006
Hundreds of tonnes of medical aid given to Bosnia during its civil war now pose a threat to the country's environment and the health of its people, an official said Thursday. "We don't know the exact amount of expired medical drugs waste in Bosnia but estimate there could be up to 1,000 tonnes," a Bosnian Serb health ministry official who requested anonymity told AFP.

Most of the drugs were delivered to Bosnia from abroad, notably Europe, as part of medical aid to help the country cope with shortages during its brutal 1992-1995 inter-ethnic war.

"At the time, we were not in a position to choose which drugs to accept and reject, and unfortunately many pharmaceutical firms used the situation as a means of getting rid of these supplies to avoid paying high costs for their destruction," said the official.

The health ministry warned that expired drugs could be detrimental to the health of Bosnia's 3.8 million people.

"Pharmaceutical waste can be dangerous to people's health and the environment," said Deputy Health Minister Vanda Markovic-Perkovic, warning special attention had to be paid to drugs capable of causing cancer, DNA damage or mutations.

Under local law, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies are obliged to destroy expired medicine, but in Bosnia there are neither incinerators nor waste dumps designed for such waste.

The only legal solution is to ship the waste abroad and pay for its destruction, but most Bosnian hospitals are cash-strapped and throw waste on illegal dumps, according to environmental groups.

"Expired drugs are mostly piled onto illegal waste dumps of which there are about 10,000 in Bosnia," said Neretva Idriz Ciric of the Eko association, adding environmental protection laws were largely ignored.

"We are more concerned about people's health today than during the war for we then knew where the shots were being fired from and could hide, but expired drugs represent a latent danger," said Ciric.

The problem still persists in Bosnia despite coverage in local media, which often carry images of drugs stored in unsealed metal containers placed near villages and public water supplies.

Bosnian hospitals have even admitted to getting rid of medical waste by offering it for sale to recyclers of metal containers, according to some reports.

"Fortunately, we have solved the problem by selling metal containers at public auctions," Ante Kvesic, the director of the Klinicka Hospital in the southern town of Mostar, told local media recently.

Environmental protection agencies say they are concerned about the lack of proper action by Bosnian authorities in order to put a halt to such practices.

Bosnian Serb environment ministry official Sveto Cvijic said his department had no records on how pharmaceutical waste was stored, adding it was the responsibility of those who possessed it to store it safely.

"Currently ... we have no budget" for solving the issue of expired drugs, said Cvijic.

However, the Eko group's Ciric warned that authorities should "start taking the necessary steps to solve the problem of waste, especially pharmaceuticals, in order to ensure the safety of its citizens".

"At the moment no one can guarantee the health and safety of Bosnian citizens," she said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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