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Winter 2000
Doctor Without Borders
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KOSOVO'S MEDICAL NEEDS, however, go far beyond inoculations. It is recovering not only from the direct conflict 18 months ago, but also from years of repressive Serbian government policies. For nearly a decade before NATO bombs fell, Kosovo Albanians had been living with an underground health system. Serbs had forced ethnic Albanian doctors out of hospitals and medical students out of schools. Textbooks and reference materials written in Albanian were destroyed. Record-keeping broke down.

Making due the best they could, ethnic Albanians set up clinics in private homes. Doctors tried to help half-trained medical students complete their education, offering lessons. But access to health care, medical supplies and drugs declined dramatically.

On days when I did not visit clinics, I worked at my group's office in Pristina on projects designed to address long-term needs. One of my major tasks was to develop health-record cards for women. Because the health-care system is still so fragmented and many people never see the same doctor twice, it is not practical for records to be kept at clinics or doctors' offices. Many women came to our clinic carrying little bunches of paper scraps, documentation of past visits with other doctors. We wanted to make formal cards that patients could keep and take with them whenever they went to a doctor.

We looked for other ways to make a long-lasting difference. With few reference books available in the Albanian language, the doctors and nurses of Kosovo can look only to materials written in Serbo-Croatian or another foreign language. Many ethnic Albanians are interested in forgetting everything Serbian, so English is the tongue of choice. We spent a good deal of time tutoring our hosts in English and showing them how to look up information on the Internet. We brought boxes and boxes of American books to leave behind.

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