Chemical blamed for mystery Chechen disease
23 Dec 2005 11:45:15 GMT Source: Reuters
GROZNY, Russia, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Russian doctors on Friday blamed a chemical found in antifreeze for a mystery disease that has hit dozens of Chechen children, but it remained unclear how they had become affected.
Children have been ill all week in Chechnya with symptoms including hysteria, panic, shortness of breath, vomiting and diarrhoea -- prompting speculation that they could have been targeted by chemical weapons.
But Muminat Khadzhayeva, a doctor in the neighbouring region of Dagestan, blamed ethyl glycol -- a chemical that prevents water freezing and is a major cause of poisoning in people and animals.
"One of the most likely ways that they ingested it is through the water," said another doctor in the Dagestani capital Makhachkala who asked not to be named.
The doctor, who was part of a team that tested blood samples from five affected girls, said northern Chechnya relied on wells for its water, and the poisoning might have sprung from polluted ground water.
Experts had suggested the disease could be caused by stress brought on by Chechnya's 11-year war, and President Vladimir Putin ordered extra help for the children. Some 85 people, mostly children, were in hospital in Chechnya on Friday.
But Chechnya's rebels, who accuse Russia of trying to wipe out their nation through the war in the mountainous region, demanded an international investigation into the incident to probe if the children were poisoned.
"The Russian leadership is conducting a whole programme of medical and ecological elements aimed at reducing the population," said Umar Khambiyev, health minister in the Chechen rebel government, in comments on a rebel Web site (www.kavkazcenter.com).
Chechens have suffered a health crisis during the war, which has destroyed the infrastructure and economy of the once-wealthy region. Child mortality is around double the Russian average, and poverty-related diseases are widespread.
Chechnya's newly elected parliament debated the issue on Friday.
Said Yakhikhadzhiyev, head of its health committee, said an independent probe was necessary to make sure people did not see the investigation as a whitewash. But other deputies were already prepared to blame the army.
"In the last 15 years Chechnya has been a testing ground for all kinds of weapons, and what is happening now is a result of the military's constant work," said deputy Lechi Umchayev.