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August 7, 1996

Medical Supplies Donated to Hospitals in Bosnia and Croatia, 1994-1995Report of a Survey Evaluating Humanitarian Aid in War

Author Affiliations

From the International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, Switzerland.

JAMA. 1996;276(5):364-368. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540050024008

Objective.  —To evaluate access to and distribution and quality of medical supplies donated by humanitarian aid organizations to hospitals and health services during the war in Bosnia and Croatia.

Design.  —Retrospective survey of 68 representatives of hospitals and field hospitals regularly caring for inpatients between May 1994 and April 1995.

Setting.  —Three study areas: the Republic and Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Republika Srpska (part of Bosnia-Herzegovina controlled by Bosnian Serbs), and Republika Srpska Krajina (part of Croatia controlled by Croatian Serbs during the study period).

Participants.  —Of 68 hospital representatives, 44 completed the survey (65% response rate). Respondents did not include representatives from 11 hospitals and field hospitals that could not be contacted because of operational obstacles resulting from the ongoing war.

Results.  —Lack of supplies was reported as an important limitation by 62% (26/42) of respondents, followed by lack of staff and security, physical isolation, and lack of infrastructure. Antibiotics were mentioned by 76% (32/42) of respondents as the unavailable drug or item most urgently needed. The majority of drug and medical supplies used to treat patients had been supplied by 5 humanitarian aid organizations. The frequency with which respondents mentioned their "own means" (eg, from the ministry of health or respective municipalities) was relatively low (9%), reflecting the high degree of dependency on humanitarian aid. All respondents rated the quality of donated supplies and the working relationship with the donating organization as "very good" or "satisfactory"; 93% (41/44) of respondents indicated that the donated supplies were appropriate. Six of 44 respondents preferred to receive supplies as part of assembled kits; 70% (31/44) preferred to receive such assistance as loose supplies according to demand.

Conclusion.  —During war, access and security are beyond the control of humanitarian agencies. Assistance coordination, however, must be provided. Although a consensus on policies and objectives between different humanitarian organizations is difficult to reach, satisfactory complementarity can be achieved. The systematic and continuous gathering of information at the recipient and user level, beginning at the early phase of the conflict, is recommended to maintain appropriate assistance.