Ukraine thanks Cuba for Chernobyl care

Campaign News | Wednesday, 30 March 2005

More than 18,000 children treated

HAVANA - More than 18,000 children with health problems believed linked to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine have received treatment in Cuba over the last 15 years, officials said.

Hundreds of those children and their relatives gathered to mark the 15th anniversary of the program, launched in 1991 after the Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded and caught fire in 1986. The initial blast and fire caused 31 deaths but the radiation plume that spread from the crippled power plant eventually killed and sickened many more.

"For many mothers, Cuba was the only hope," said Svetlana Saslavskaya, whose son showed officials and diplomats attending Tuesday's event how he could stand up from a wheelchair and move slowly after several operations for an unidentified illness.

The children receive treatment at a coastal sanatorium at Tarara, east of Havana. Cuba pays for all medical treatment, room and board. The average stay is 2 1/2 months.

About 250 children are at the sanatorium at any one time. They live in houses surrounding the medical facility, often with their parents.

When the program began, most of the young patients suffered from leukemia, other forms of cancer and cerebral palsy - health problems doctors believe are related to the radiation.

But any sick child from the affected region is eligible for the program, regardless of their affliction.

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