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Are war and public health compatible?

Toole MJ, Galson S, Brady W

  • Journal Lancet (London, England)

  • Published 08 Jun 1993

  • Volume 341

  • ISSUE 8854

  • Pagination 1193-6

  • DOI 10.1016/0140-6736(93)91013-c


A public health assessment during March, 1993, in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in the areas of Serbia and Montenegro hosting Bosnian refugees, revealed extensive disruption to basic health services, displacement of more than 1 million Bosnians, severe food shortages in Muslim enclaves in eastern Bosnia, and widespread destruction of public water and sanitation systems. War-related violence remains the most important public health risk; civilians on all sides of the conflict have been intentional targets of physical and sexual violence. The impact of the war on the health status of the population has been difficult to document; however, in the central Bosnian province of Zenica, perinatal and child mortality rates have increased twofold since 1991. The crude death rate in one Muslim enclave between April, 1992, and March, 1993, was four times the pre-war rate. Prevalence rates of severe malnutrition among both adults and children in central Bosnia have been increasing since November, 1992. Major epidemics of communicable diseases have not been reported; however, the risk may increase during the summer of 1993 when the effects of disrupted water and sanitation systems are more likely to promote enteric disease transmission. Economic sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro may lead to declining health care standards in those republics if basic medical supplies cannot effectively be exempted.