/** headlines: 117.0 **/
** Topic: Final Report On Bhopal Says Suffering Continues **
** Written 6:03 PM Dec 23, 1996 by econet in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 1:59 PM Dec 21, 1996 by email@example.com in haz.pesticides */
/* ---------- "PANUPS: Final Report on Bhopal" ---------- */
P A N U P S
Pesticide Action Network North America Updates Service
Twelve years after the Union Carbide gas leak disaster in Bhopal, India, serious medical, economic and social problems among survivors and their children persist, according to the final report of the International Medical Commission on Bhopal (IMCB). The IMCB, an international volunteer organization comprised of physicians and public health experts, has investigated a range of issues related to the Bhopal disaster. In December 1984, a mixture of toxic gases leaked from a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, killing thousands and injuring hundreds of thousands.
The Commission demands that Union Carbide acknowledge its negligence in causing this disaster. The IMCB points out that Union Carbide's admission of responsibility and its appearance before the Magistrate Court of Bhopal to answer charges of culpable homicide would be a first step in helping survivors feel that justice has been done.
According to the final report issued in December 1996, as many as 50,000 people including children of survivors continue to suffer as a result of the gas leak. The Commission identified several key issues for survivors that should be addressed by the Indian government and/or Union Carbide, including chronic physical and psychological illness, inadequate or misdirected medical treatment, lack of community-based primary health care systems, inadequate compensation for death and injury, and a range of challenges related to job loss, poverty and prejudice against victims of the disaster.
The Commission stated that many survivors suffer chronic neurological problems such as loss of memory, speech or fine motor skills. Many survivors also suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, a condition that the Indian government does not recognize as an effect of the gas exposure requiring compensation. In addition, many suffer from severe depression and a sense of hopelessness related to their disrupted lives and their loss of loved ones.
Compounding these problems, the health care system in Bhopal consists primarily of hospitals and does not provide community-based clinics. The Commission believes such clinics are essential to continuity of care and communication between patients and medical providers. Under the current system, the report indicated that health practitioners have tended to overlook the underlying causes of survivors' chronic illnesses, preferring to treat the acute symptoms of chronic pain with drugs that are frequently very expensive or inappropriate.
The IMCB's report calls for the Indian government to make the development of community based clinics a top priority rather than more hospitals. The number of hospital beds in Bhopal is almost twice the World Bank's recommendation. In addition, the Commission demands that the government provide these clinics with the means to keep complete patient records, develop appropriate medical protocols for treating various gas related disabilities, and monitor patients for a range of disorders including reproductive effects, cancer and other impacts which may have long latency periods. The Commission stated that the government has begun taking steps to implement these changes, but that they have been very slow.
The report also outlined a range of social and economic challenges, including poverty due to job loss or death of family providers, poor sanitation in the slum areas most affected by the gases and social stigmatization of survivors -- especially for girls. The IMCB calls for improved housing, clean water and opportunities for work to meet the needs of survivors. It also recommends assigning responsibility for survivors' needs to the Ministry of Health and Welfare rather than the Ministry of Chemicals and Petrochemicals, the agency currently charged with this responsibility.
Sources: Pesticides Trust press release, December 4, 1996. International Perspectives in Public Health, Volumes 11 and 12, 1996.
Contact: Barbara Dinham, The Pesticides Trust, Eurolink Business Centre, 49 Effra Road, London, SW2 1BZ, England; fax (441 71) 274-8895; email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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