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Winter 2000
Doctor Without Borders
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EMINE AND HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of Kosovars like her are working to rebuild some semblance of normal life. They are recovering not only from three months of NATO airstrikes, a massive refugee exodus and a bittersweet return, but also from years of fighting between rebels and Serbian soldiers and nearly a decade of government repression. In May 1999 I spent two weeks in Tirana, Albania, providing medical care to refugees from the fighting in Kosovo. I returned to the region this summer as part of an international effort to help them begin the long process of rebuilding.

In some towns, I actually had to remind myself that yes, there had been a war. Pristina, the capital, was bustling with new construction projects, buzzing with techno music and teeming with energetic, optimistic young people experiencing freedom for the first time in their lives. There was an overwhelming sense of hope.

But out in the countryside, it was impossible to forget what had happened. Bridges were bombed out, forcing traffic to make huge detours. Fields planted with land mines were cordoned off with yellow tape. Graves, some containing dozens of bodies, lined the roadsides. Piles of blackened rubble marked where houses once stood.

In many of these villages - places with names like Sferke, Orllan and Glamnike - the only new buildings were bright-yellow clinics built by my group, International Medical Corps.

As part of a team focused on maternal and child health, I saw mostly women - 40 or 50 a day, in some cases. Sometimes, the clinic was so full we had to see patients outside. Their complaints ranged from ear infections to depression.

But a good many came for birth control. Traditionally, women in Kosovo had used IUDs and very little else, and there were a lot of misconceptions about other options, including the pill. Before we came, no one there had even heard of Depo-Provera, an injected, long-lasting contraceptive, but now people are clamoring for it. And they want condoms, which they of course knew about but had trouble getting. Young women in particular expressed strong fears about contracting HIV.

We spent a lot of time, too, on sexually transmitted diseases. Chlamydia and gonorrhea were major problems, and they sometimes presented us with delicate situations.

During the war, many Kosovar men went to Turkey, Germany and elsewhere in Europe to escape the Serbian army, the KLA or both. While away, they picked up sexually transmitted diseases, then came back to Kosovo and passed them on to their wives.

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