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East Timor. Juliana from the woods is gaining weight

13-12-1999 Feature

She is an almost 4 months old baby and doesn't weigh 2 kg. But she is strong enough now to hold her bottle by herself. She is hanging on to life and to her adoptive mother Beatrice, who found her in the woods surrounding Dili while collecting fire wood on 21 July 1999. That was over a month before the violence begun.


Ref. TP-N-00030

During the first weeks, Beatrice tried to care for the baby by herself and fed her rice water. But the baby was loosing weight. Then, after the East Timorese independence vote on 30 August 1999, the militias and the Indonesian army were roaming the streets of the city. Beatrice ran away from the relative safety of her home and hid in the woods with thousands of other East Timorese. There she fed the baby whatever she could find in the chaos around her.

When Beatrice finally decided to bring the baby to the Dili General Hospital on 19 October 1999, she weighed 1,5 kg and all her bones were showing from under he r skin. The ICRC medical staff in the Dili General Hospital, didn't want to pronounce themselves about the baby's chances of survival.

" This baby wasn't the first one to arrive in such a state " says Marit Busengdal, Norwegian Red Cross Society nurse in the paediatric ward, " and another one, little Maria, had died a few days earlier " she adds. Thanks to the supplementary food offered by the French NGO ACF (Action contre la faim - Action Against Hunger), Beatrice's baby is finally gaining weight again. " I named her Juliana because apparently she was born in July, " says Beatrice. Marit adds proudly: " with the names Beatrice and Juliana, it's like having part of the Dutch Royal family here in Dili " .

As the weakest group within a generally weakened population, children are particularly vulnerable. In a situation where changes in living conditions, stress and lack of food are common, they are all too frequently reflected in critical health problems. The interruption to regular access to medical services and health facilities throughout the island, as well as a lack of medical supplies has brought a resultant increase in common diseases among children.

One of the problems faced by the ICRC medical team in the Dili General hospital is that patients arrive here in extremely serious conditions. Patients are also referred to the general hospital from the two INTERFET as well as from the former military, now the Portuguese, hospitals. " People arriving at the hospital are in the advanced stages of disease or seriously ill " , says Jenny Hayward, ICRC manager and head nurse of the general hospital, " the difficult times and deterioration in general living conditions suffered by the population h ave brought an increase in morbidity. Given the general conditions, this is entirely foreseeable " , Jenny adds.

The ICRC is presently operating the Dili General Hospital, still considered as the referral hospital for all of East Timor. The ICRC has re-established a range of emergency health services in the hospital after the departure of the Indonesian staff. When ICRC delegates arrived on 14 September 1999, they found that only 10 nurses had remained caring with little material and no medicine for some 37 patients and trying to protect the hospital from damage. A Norwegian Red Cross field hospital was donated and flown to Dili. It was set up in the existing hospital and was operational on September 24. With two operating theatres, an emergency ward, internal medicine, paediatrics and maternity wards as well as laboratory and x-ray services, the hospital has a capacity of 120 beds. It cares for 90 in-patients and as many as 150 out-patients per day.

Because the hospital is not running to its full capacity during this emergency phase, it is unable to provide elective treatment for chronic illness and disease. The polyclinic which previously offered services in specialist areas such as dental and ophtalmology is not operating. However, the ICRC is awaiting the constitution of an East Timorese health authority to take over the management of the General Hospital and resume regular health care.

 Ref. LG 1999-203-ENG