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24 Nov 10

Kosovo: Blood Testing to Begin for Roma Lead Camp Children

Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian children in the Osterode settlement in Mitrovica, most of whom spent their childhood living near an old lead mine, will soon have their blood tested for lead contamination.

Petrit Collaku

Kosovo's Ministry of Health signed an agreement on Tuesday with health authorities in Mitrovica that will monitor and regulate the treatment of children in the Osterode settlement with high levels of lead in their bloodstream.

"This service is first of all for the most vulnerable community- the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian, RAE, community whose children have faced exclusion from the health system for a long time," Ilir Tolaj, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Health, said in Mitrovica on Tuesday.

Most of the Osterode residents were recently moved to the site after the informal settlement of Cesmin Lug near the Trepca lead mine was closed on October 1.

Hundreds of RAE families lived for ten years in Cesmin Lug, an area that was never cleaned up and which is still extremely contaminated with the heavy metal.

Dozens of cases of settlement residents contracting lead poisoning have been reported over the years.

The head of Mercy Corps in Kosovo, Iveta Ouvry, said that the organisation will be in charge of the first phase of the project, which is blood tests.

"Then we will continue with the therapy depending on the level of the blood contamination," Ouvry told Balkan Insight.

Ouvry said that the leaders of the Roma families have been waiting some time for the tests, which mark a significant step forward for them.

Lead contamination is toxic to many body organs and tissues including the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, and the reproductive and nervous systems.

Human rights and health groups long expressed concern about the level of pollution in Cesmin Lug, one of the three camps opened by the UNHCR in 1999 to house hundreds of Roma refugees.

After the camps were officially closed in October, the remaining inhabitants were resettled in Osterode, a nearby refugee camp which is considered to be safer, and others in Roma Mahala, a district in Mitrovica.

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