Page 1, 11th December 1981

11th December 1981
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Page 1, 11th December 1981 — Thousands may die in Polish medical famine
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Locations: London, Katowice

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Thousands may die in Polish medical famine

by Jonathan Petre

A HORRIFYING picture of the suffering caused by the lack of vital medical supplies in Poland was described this week by Dr Zhigniew Gryszkiewicz, Lech Walesa's right hand man for medical relief.

At a press conference organised by the Federation of Poles in Great Britain, Dr Gryszkiewicz told of the letters he received daily from mothers who were fighting for the lives of their babies "with very little chance of success".

Obviously struggling with his emotions, he described how one desperate mother had approached him for help as he was waiting for the 'plane that was to bring him to London. He had to tell her that there was nothing he could do.

The size of the problem was illustrated by an estimate. made earlier this year, that more than 700,000 people could die by the end of 1981 because of the acute shortage of supplies.

Now, Dr Gryszkiewicz said, vital supplies of insulin, the drug required by diabetics, had reached the country, but large numbers of people, many of them children, were only "being saved for the time being".

Speaking about the Polish Health Service's inability to provide help for sick people who remained in their homes, especially the old, he said: "We are spending sleepless nights because of that . . We are so overwhelmed with human suffering that our nerves are no longer able to stand it."

Dr Gryszkiewicz was in England to appeal for supplies on behalf of the "Drug Rescue Bank". recently set up by the free trade union Solidarity to coordinate the efficient distribution of urgently needed drugs throughout Poland.

Earlier this week he attended a meeting held by the International Red Cross Disasters Aid Committee, chaired by Lord Hunt of Tamworth, at which representatives of a number of charities, including Oxfam, Christian Aid and the Sue Ryder Foundation, were present.

The aim of this meeting was to co-ordinate the efforts of the various charities which are involved, with the Catholic Church in Poland, in distributing food and medical supplies.

The "Drug Rescue Bank" is a vital part of the operation. Dr Gryszkiewicz, a former judge and lecturer in Logic explained that Solidarity's reasons for founding the bank were not only to ameliorate the present health conditions but to demonstrate the union's willingness to control the increasingly volatile temperament of the Polish workers as tensions grow through the winter.

Signs of unrest are already becoming apparent, and the feeling that the government's tough approach might lead to confrontation has led Archbishop Glemp, the Primate of Poland, to warn the authorities not to introduce a state of emergency.

In a letter to all MPs in the Polish parliament, the Archbishop said: "The country is not currently threatened by large scale strikes," but he implied that the situation would change if legislation to declare a state of emergency were introduced.

The fear of confrontation was echoed by Mr Artur Rynkiewicz, President of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain. "It is difficult to get people to the barricades when their bellies are full, but when they are empty — like now anything can happen."

Mr Rynkiewicz had earlier called for emergency food aid to "stave off outbursts of violence." Describing Poland as "an economic disaster area", he said that the "main problem was not distribution but a shortage of funds."

One organisation that has been particularly active, in cooperation with the Federation of Poles, has been the Food for Poland Fund,* which has been sending on average 15 tonnes of food to Poland every month.

The food is distributed through the Church, with the guidance of auxiliary Bishop Czeslaw Domin, of Katowice, who indicates the areas of real need.

The organisation has received support in Britain from, among others. the Duke of Norfolk, Lord St Oswald and Lord Attlee. as well as the firm Cow & Gate who donated 38 tonnes of baby milk powder (worth about 1C0.000).

At the recent AGM of the Catholic Union of Great Britain, Count Grocholski, vice president of the Anglo Polish Society thanked all those who had contributed aid to Poland, but stressed that more must be forthcoming.

*Federation of Poles in Great Britain, 238-246 King Street. London W6.

Food for Poland Fund. I Courtfield Gardens, London W13.




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