Doctors debate landmines

October 10, 1997

A Canadian professor of medicine is trying to establish an international conference for doctors and organisations dealing with the victims of land mines.

Riding the wave of recent worldwide attention on land mines, Ron Stewart of Dalhousie University is hoping to set up a biennial conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Dr Stewart, a former provincial health minister and executive member of the World Association of Emergency and Disaster Medicine, said no conference deals with the health aspects of land mines, the world's largest source of war-related injuries. "We haven't had a forum in which to express the needs of researchers on an international level," he said.

His initiative comes on the heels of the approval by 89 nations this month in Oslo of a global treaty to ban the devices. Countries not expected to sign the treaty in Ottawa in December include the United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq.

Canada has played a significant role in initiating the global treaty to ban the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of land mines.

Holly Burkhalter, advocacy director for Physicians for Human Rights, an American group that had been pressing the Clinton administration to sign, says the land-mine ban is an "excellent treaty". She was disappointed that Mr Clinton did not approve it.

"The US is truly isolated," she said, admitting that a great philosophical rift exists between US doctors and their administration.

The Halifax conference, scheduled for next year as an international exchange of information, will address public health issues, both physical and psychological.

Dr Stewart said that one debate would be between those who thought less money should be going into providing prostheses for the maimed and more into developing local economies. Many poor victims throw away their artificial limbs in order to make more money begging.

The United Nations estimates that there are tens of millions of anti-personnel land mines buried in more than 70 countries.

About 26,000 people are killed or maimed worldwide each year by land mines. Eighty per cent of them are civilians. The areas most severely affected by land mines include Angola, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Bosnia, Croatia, Vietnam, Mozambique, Iraq, Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan.

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