The Politics of Lead Treatment

J. Malcolm Garcia, for the Pulitzer Center. Photo by Darren McCollester

Malcolm Roma boy with lead on his teeth, Osterrode Camp, North Mitrovica

Pediatrician Zoran Savich has seen many lead poisoned Roma children since he began working in Osterrode Camp and Chesmin Lug Camp in 2005. He had been told the camps would be temporary and the families would be moved to a place with less toxicity. He dispensed medicines. He treated more than 300 children for lead poisoning and really thought he would be successful, but he was deceived.

Year after year, the families remained in the camps. When he stopped treatment, their lead blood levels continued to rise. So he stopped going to the camps. As long as they remained on toxic land, what would be the point? They should be moved to another country free of lead but the United Nations refuses. Officials say the Roma are not refugees but internally displaced peoples and should remain in their own country. So they remain in the camps.

Dr. Savich knows of 77 people who have died in the camps between 1999 and 2008. Maybe more, he can't say. He does not know how many were children. The grandchildren of one family have particularly high lead blood levels. More than 45 decilitors. One girl is physically retarded. Another has bad convulsions. All from lead. He has no doubt.

Dr. Savich does have contact with Roma children who come to his office. He tries to ease their pain but does not treat them for lead because they remain in the camps. For treatment to be effective, the Roma must be removed from the camp and provided an adequate diet with a lot of calcium. Otherwise, he is wasting their time and his.

He hopes the situation resolves itself.