Background: The siege of Sarajevo is a long-term, human-made, medical disaster of international significance. The delivery of emergency health care provided to the large civilian population held captive in that war zone for an extended time was studied.
Methods: In May 1993, a humanitarian and fact-finding visit to Sarajevo was conducted. Physicians, administrators, and public health officials were interviewed; epidemiological data were acquired--the resuscitation of war casualties at the two largest hospitals were observed; and local published reports and videotaped footage on the organization and delivery of prehospital and hospital care were reviewed. The videotapes also served to document war crimes.
Results: Daily bombardment and sniper fire directed at civilians have caused a steady stream of casualties (64,130, or an average of 119 killed or injured per day in 18 months). Eighty percent of the victims were civilian. Despite hazardous conditions from direct shelling, disruption of vital lifelines, and shortage of supplies, medicines, oxygen, and anesthetics, the physicians continue to provide at least a minimum standard of resuscitative care. Seventy percent of all war victims were transported to hospitals in private vehicles. Most casualties (93%) received some form of prehospital, basic first-aid from lay bystanders or first responders. From November 1992 to February 1993, 27,733 patients were treated in hospitals, resulting in 2,139 major surgical procedures. The primary cause of death in 71 of 273 victims was prolonged hemorrhagic, hypovolemic shock. Sixty-one percent of these victims died within 24 hours of injury.
Conclusions: Continuous needs assessment of a civilian population in a war zone should be accompanied by rapid delivery of outside aid. International "peacekeeping" forces should protect hospitals and their staffs, and ensure the entry of supplies and evacuation of some patients. A public trained in life-supporting first-aid, and physicians and paramedics with experience in advanced life support may have enhanced lifesaving efforts in Sarajevo.