Education, health care addressing long-term effects of Chernobyl disaster

Even 30 years after Chernobyl, ten million people in Belarus, Russia, Moldova and Ukraine are still suffering from the long-term health consequences of the disaster. With its Social and Medical Care programme, Green Cross supports families affected by the catastrophe.

Therapy camps

Among those worst affected are children like Dimitri, from the village of Barashi in the Zhytomyr province of Ukraine. He suffers from anaemia and a thyroid condition, as well as joint problems, digestive disorders and a vitamin deficiency. At the Green Cross therapy camp, Dimitri received medical and psychological care, uncontaminated food rich in vitamins and a chance to recuperate in fresh, clean air and a natural environment.

Green Cross has been running therapy camps every summer since 1995 to improve the health and social circumstances of children from contaminated areas. The children receive medical and psychological care and enjoy uncontaminated food rich in vitamins. Spending plenty of time in a healthy, natural environment and fresh air helps them recuperate from the stress of radiation and strengthen their immune system for the harsh winter. The camps are held in an uncontaminated environment in the children’s home country.

Besides an easy-going camp atmosphere with plenty of sport, games and fun, the children receive decontamination therapy and lessons in ecology, culture and social studies. The wide range of activities and medical treatments have a positive effect on the children’s health. That is why all of the children (97.5%) would like to participate in a therapy camp again, as shown by surveys conducted at last year’s camps.

A long-term study has also shown that the symptoms diagnosed on entry to the camp are no longer detectable in a third to a half of the children afterwards, compared with 3.7% of children unable to visit a therapy camp (summer generally brings a slight improvement in health). Follow-up examinations even show a reduction of 48.5% in the case of ear, nose and throat illnesses. Radiation levels in the body also fall by 30 to 80%. And 65.2% of children who take part in Green Cross therapy camps and programmes over several years show no symptoms of disease at all.

The therapy camp also had positive effects on Dimitri’s health. His mother, Inna Suschevsky, barely recognised him when he returned home. “The joy was written all over his face,” she says. “He looked so healthy and was full of energy and happiness. We are so grateful to Green Cross. I hope even more children from our village can take part in the therapy camps.”

The Green Cross Family Club

The long-term consumption of contaminated food poses a significant threat to people’s health in the areas affected by the Chernobyl disaster. However, correct preparation can reduce radioactivity in food by up to 95 per cent.

The Green Cross Family Club imparts the necessary knowledge on the subject. For example, milk can be processed into butter in the traditional way. Only the fat-rich part of the milk containing few radionuclides is used, while the watery and highly contaminated liquid is discarded. As a result, the radiation level is reduced by up to 90 per cent. Reducing radioactivity in food not only requires particularly careful preparation of meals but also specific cultivation methods and constant measurement of radioactivity.

At the club meetings, members learn that soil conditions help to determine the amount of radionuclides absorbed by the plants. Radiation is also measured in the areas surrounding the villages. The most severely contaminated places are marked with stakes to prevent the inhabitants from cutting grass for hay, picking berries and mushrooms or allowing their cattle to graze there. The families also learn for example that early plant varieties contain fewer radionuclides. Deep roots also ensure that the fruit is less contaminated.

At the Family Club in Bila Tserkva in the Ukraine, Elena Korobkina also successfully attended nutrition courses. She lives with her family in Shkarovka, a village in the contaminated area, and her nine-year-old son Nasar is an officially recognised victim of the Chernobyl disaster. Besides medical care, food low in radiation is particularly important for him. Nasar suffers from cardiac arrhythmia, a congenital malformation of the gallbladder and a pancreatic disorder.

Heart problems, cancer, blood formation disorders, thyroid deficiencies and other serious illnesses are widespread in the contaminated areas in the Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Moldova, so mothers and their children at the Family Clubs also receive urgently needed medical care.

Comparative studies over several years have shown that radiation levels in the club members’ bodies fall significantly if the nutritional rules are followed. Thanks to support from Switzerland, innocent victims of Chernobyl such as Nasar and his family are being protected from harmful radiation.