Among the worst affected areas was Belarus, where about 60% of the fallout landed, and whose border with Ukraine is only 16 kilometres from the Chernobyl plant. Since the accident, birth rates in Belarus have fallen by 50%. Thyroid cancer, particularly among children, has risen 285%.
Belarus now spends some 20% of its annual budget dealing with the aftermath of the disaster and, working with other agencies and charities worldwide, shoulders an enormous burden to provide medical care for all those affected – not least for those children whose lives have been blighted.
One beacon of hope is the Belarusian Children’s Hospice in Minsk, founded in 1994, which looks after sick and terminally-ill children, including the second generation victims of Chernobyl. The hospice not only cares for the children themselves, providing both residential and respite care, but also operates a medical outreach programme to look after children in their own homes.
The hospice deals with up to 4,000 visits per year, helping children aged from babies to young men and women in their mid-20s. Originally, the hospice cared for children up to aged 18 but, with better treatments, that upper age limit has been raised. The hospice, funded by Belarusian and international charitable donations, provides care, hope and a safe environment for patients who weren’t even born when the power plant exploded.
The Belarusian Children’s Hospice was the first, and remains the leading, children’s hospice in Belarus. Nearly 70% of its patients have cancer. Apart from medical and palliative care, the hospice runs summer holiday programmes in the local countryside, bereavement counselling and training programmes for doctors and other health professionals.
One important factor in illnesses associated with the disaster is indoor air quality, because many of the affected children and young people have impaired lung function. Indoor air quality, long recognised by the World Health Organisation as a serious medical issue, is particularly pertinent for the children of Chernobyl.
When leading carpet manufacturer Desso learned of the Belarusian Children’s Hospice and the importance of providing its children with the best-possible indoor environment, the company stepped in to donate carpet for the building, including its advanced AirMaster® carpet, which was fitted only a few weeks ago in time for Christmas.
AirMaster® was specifically developed to improve indoor air quality by trapping and immobilising particulate matter, with independent tests confirming that AirMaster® is eight times more effective in capturing and retaining fine dust than hard flooring – and four times more effective than standard carpeting*.
It’s already proving a popular and worthwhile Christmas present, with Anna Garchakova, director of the Belarusian Children’s Hospice, saying that the benefits of cleaner air were tangible as soon as the carpet fitters had left. She expressed heartfelt thanks on behalf of the hospice’s young patients and their families. Also the staff are benefitting from a healthier working environment.
"When we received a request to help the hospice with new carpet, everybody from our Moscow staff was very enthusiastic about the idea and eager to help. We picked the carpet with great care, keeping in mind the special needs of the children, and are very happy with the result and the fact that we were able to help, at least a little bit," said John Egelmeer, Country Manager Russia & FSU.