Romania: 17 dead this year and over 400 in danger at psychiatric hospital

A representative of the Centre for Legal Resources, a Romanian non-governmental organisation, visited the hospital on 20 February and established that 17 patients had died in 2004, apparently from malnutrition and hypothermia, and that 84 patients had died, many from similar causes, in 2003.

Some hospital staff expressed concern about the lack of funds to adequately care for the patients, who were hungry, poorly clothed, infested with lice and had inadequate bedding. The heating system does not appear to be used at the hospital, a former army barracks, in a region where temperatures frequently fall below freezing for days, sometimes weeks at a time between November and March.

Amnesty International UK Media Director Lesley Warner said:

'This is an appalling situation. In one hospital alone, seventeen people are dead already this year and hundreds more are in imminent danger.

'The Romanian authorities must act immediately to provide heating, food and medicines.

'A full investigation should be conducted to ensure that this cannot happen again.'

The hospital is in the town of Poiana Mare, 80km south of Craiova. The mayor of the town told the national daily newspaper Evenimentul zilei on 17 February:

'Since the beginning of the year I have issued 21 death certificates [this number includes four patients from another near-by hospital for chest diseases]. I found out that these people died of hunger and cold... People live there in miserable conditions, a situation confirmed by the Dolj County Sanitary Inspectorate. I have not witnessed something like this for a long time - so many deaths in such a short period of time.'

Background information The situation in the Poiana Mare hospital has been under public scrutiny for many years. Under the Ceausescu regime in the 1970s and 1980s it had been notorious as one of the hospitals where dissidents were arbitrarily detained. After 1989 the deplorable living conditions and lack of adequate treatment came to symbolise the plight of thousands of people with mental illness held in similar institutions throughout the country.

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) visited the hospital in 1995 and 1999. The Romanian Ministry of Health told the CPT in November 1995 that:
'The Poiana Mare Hospital shall be gradually eliminated as a hospital, as it no longer brings together acceptable circumstances...'
Very little appears to have changed since then.

Amnesty International, in co-operation with the Centre for Legal Resources, has been monitoring the situation in psychiatric hospitals in Romania over recent months. Information collected during visits to hospitals and from many other sources indicates that chronic lack of funding for mental health services in Romania has further deteriorated in the past 18 months. Reports from hospitals throughout the country speak of persistent shortages of medication, heating and food.

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