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East Timor: Dili hospital: over 50,000 patients treated in past year

28-09-2000 News Release 00/37

On 6 September 1999 ICRC delegates were forcibly expelled from East Timor by militiamen opposed to the territory's independence. The ICRC office was looted and then burnt to the ground.

An advance party of ICRC delegates and doctors who returned to Dili from Jakarta on 14September 1999, six days before the arrival of the Interfet multinational force, found the town's General Hospital virtually empty. Its only occupants were 35 bedridden patients being cared for by sixvery courageous Timorese nurses. All the other staff had left, and looters had stripped  the hospital of its equipment. The same day the ICRC decided to take over the hospital and restore vital medical services. Guarantees of protection were secured from Indonesian military officers to prevent the burning of the hospital buildings at a time when most other public facilities in the territory were being destroyed. A medical team was brought in from Geneva, and a fully-equipped field hospital donated by the Norwegian Red Cross was set up in the main hospital compound.

ICRC expatriates and Timorese staff returning from hiding or from exile were beginning to work together by the end of September 1999. This was the first public service in East Timor to return to normal after the destruction and violence of that tragic month.

During the past year, Dili hospital has admitted nearly 5,000 patients and treated more than 46,000 outpatients. Today the 210-bed facility, which is fully financed by the ICRC, is run by 26 ICRC medical expatriates and 311 Timorese staff. According to the medical strategy of the UN Transitional Administration, it will soon become the national referral hospital for the fut ure State of Timor Lorosa'e, receiving special cases from four provincial hospitals.

This is the first time for many years that the ICRC has managed and funded all the services – surgery, intensive care, paediatrics, gynaecology/obstetrics, tuberculosis treatment and general medicine – of a central national hospital. More than 15 National Societies have seconded medical personnel to Dili during the past year to support the ICRC in this crucial and rather unusual operation.