New dimension for life
[b]The tragedy which Belarus suffered as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was a true shock for the residents of the affected regions. Now, everything has changed — both for those who moved home and those who stayed. They are now settled, making plans for the future and understanding their circumstances. Naturally, they had much to consider, taking into account the possible influence of radiation on their health [/b]Scientists admit that radiation can certainly affect human health. Initially, radioactive iodine makes the most impact, accumulating in the thyroid gland. Most of those affected by Chernobyl suffered ‘iodine stroke’, with the number of cases of thyroid gland illnesses rising, including cancer. Over 30 percent of the country’s population suffer from problems with their thyroid gland. According to the World Health Organisation, it is the only disease which is rooted in the Chernobyl disaster. However, Belarusian scientists have conducted experiments to prove that other illnesses have occurred due to increased radiation. It influences the body’s immune, endocrine and cardiovascular systems, among others.
Scientists admit that radiation can certainly affect human health. Initially, radioactive iodine makes the most impact, accumulating in the thyroid gland. Most of those affected by Chernobyl suffered ‘iodine stroke’, with the number of cases of thyroid gland illnesses rising, including cancer. Over 30 percent of the country’s population suffer from problems with their thyroid gland. According to the World Health Organisation, it is the only disease which is rooted in the Chernobyl disaster. However, Belarusian scientists have conducted experiments to prove that other illnesses have occurred due to increased radiation. It influences the body’s immune, endocrine and cardiovascular systems, among others.
Scientists’ observations of the post-Chernobyl situation have highlighted the negative consequences of the catastrophe on health and society in general. Social-psychological research shows that most people residing in contaminated regions have suffered from stress brought on by concern for their health and worries over the future.
“Psychologically, the first years after the disaster were hard,” emphasises Nikolay Yermakov, who witnessed the events at first hand. He headed the department overseeing problems relating to the Chernobyl nuclear plant catastrophe. “We had to calm people down, making them believe that life would go on. We tried to assure them that we’d do all we could to make life more comfortable, following specialists’ recommendations.”
These recommendations have guided the state in reviving the affected territories. Medical rehabilitation of the population has been a priority of the state programme to overcome the consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant catastrophe, with about 1.7mln people affected. Among them have been more than 360,000 children. Residents of the affected territories have received free sanatorium recuperation to improve their health and, annually, over 300,000 have received attention, including over 250,000 children and teenagers.
Since the disaster, new medical institutions have opened across the country, in addition to specialised clinics and centres equipped with the most modern medical equipment. In 2003, the Republican Research Centre for Radiation Medicine and Human Ecology opened in Gomel; it now boasts the best doctors and scientists specialising in radiation related illnesses. Assistance is rendered to Belarusians, Russians and Ukrainians. Since 1997, the Belarusian Research Centre for Paediatric Oncology and Haematology has been operational, offering modern methods of diagnostics and treatment of oncological and haematological illnesses.
Annual medical examinations, systematic treatment and regular recuperation have allowed public health to improve. Belarusian doctors have achieved a great deal, helped by the re-equipment of our clinics and centres. They have shown progress in treating thyroid cancer (thought to often be caused by the catastrophe) and the death rate connected with the disease has been cut to 0.9 percent in Belarus — against almost 10 percent globally. Our Belarusian scientists have developed their own treatment methods, cutting relapses to just 3.2 percent; similar positive trends have been observed with other severe diseases.
Healthy view of the future
Twenty five years after the catastrophe, Belarus still faces problems relating to radiation, so the country’s state policy regarding the affected regions remains significant. The programme of rehabilitation — running until 2015 — focuses on the development of each region’s potential, ensuring economic revival and the provision of a good standard of living. The medical aspect also remains topical, so re-equipment of hospitals and policlinics will continue and new remedial technologies and approaches will be implemented. Already, a new recuperation unit has opened at the Gomel Regional Clinical Cardiologic Dispensary, offering post-operative care. This expensive project has received humanitarian support from China, allowing a new surgical wing to open, equipped with the most advanced equipment. “It’s not a new facility,” explains its chief doctor, Anna Lopatina. “We’ve had a breakthrough in developing the cardio-surgery branch, which should help improve people’s quality of life and life expectancy. According to statistics, cardio-vascular diseases account for over 50 percent of cases but prompt medical aid could change the situation.”
Until recently, Gomel’s cardio-surgeons were conducting up to 250 open-heart operations annually. However, the new block should allow them to double this figure. In the coming years, the hospital plans to reach a figure of 1,000. The latest medical expertise is becoming available countrywide, helped by the Gomel Region’s Telemedicine project — implemented by Gomel’s State Medical University and Japan’s Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation. They have installed network and computer equipment at 12 district hospitals, enabling local doctors to hold tele-consultations with Belarus’ leading doctors at any time. By late 2011, this form of medical assistance will be available at every district hospital in the region.
“Video-conferencing is an innovation being actively used in medicine,” explains the Head of Gomel State Medical University’s Department of Phthisiology and Pulmonology, Dmitry Ruzanov. “The major advantage of telemedicine is that it allows doctors in remote areas to gain the assistance of highly qualified doctors; they are no longer isolated.” Telemedicine consultations take place online, using communication channels and video equipment. A telemedicine co-ordinating centre operates at Gomel’s State Medical University, offering communications between specialists and doctors. Patients can also take part if they wish. Telemedicine systems allow dialogue with a medical expert from any distance, providing the necessary information to make an informed diagnosis.
Online operations are the next goal for Gomel’s doctors. These are expected to be conducted under the supervision of a highly qualified doctor, starting from 2012. As a result, those in need will be able to receive professional medical treatment which might otherwise have eluded them.
By Violetta Dralyuk