Chernobyl Liquidators' Health
as a Psycho-Social Trauma

5.5.3. Inhabitants of the Chernobyl radiation contaminated areas

       Most unfavourable changes of the health for the inhabitants of the contaminated areas are considered by Malakhovsky and Zykova (1995) to be connected with:
— constant psycho-emotional tension,
— fear of radiation,
— passive awaiting for the help, and
— disappointment of not getting it.
       Such disturbance of the psychic state is characteristic for “the complex of victim” and is considered to be the most frequent, and the most unfavourable for the health, consequence of the Chernobyl Disaster. — This finding for the inhabitants of the Chernobyl radiation contaminated areas, and the finding of my study for the Chernobyl liquidators, are in good correspondence as for crucial influence of the non-irradiation factors of the Disaster upon the health.
       The main recommendation on the behaviour of the population at the contaminated areas is based upon observations that the most efficient mitigation measures are the ones undertaken as a conscious decisions of one's own. In these cases, the harm from the radiation for the person may be fully compensated by diminishing effects of other harmful factors, such as occupational hazards, lack of adequate rest, inadequate nutrition, smoking, consumption of alcohol, lack of physical exercise (Malakhovsky and Zykova 1995).
       Surveys of 5 thousand residents of the contaminated, adjacent to them and remote (control) regions, carried out in 1986—1995 (Arkhangelskaya and Zykova 1997), also showed a major impact of psychological, social and economic factors upon the Chernobyl-affected populations. According to the surveys, the majority of this population believes they had got a dangerous exposure to the radiation. In 1987—1988, it was 78,5% (!) of the respondents at the contaminated areas. These figures are said to remain constant with time: in 1993 — 65.6% residents of the contaminated areas, and 56,7% resettled from the contaminated areas, believed that they had receieved a “high” dose (only 10,7% at the clean control areas, and 24,9% at the adjacent areas). Lack of public knowledge about the mitigation measures and their results is reported to be a basic negative psychological factor. It is explained by
— the lack of understanding of the aims of the mitigation measures, and by
— the perception of remedial action as a symbol of the hazard in the everyday life.
       Very important seems to be a finding that, in the public (insiders'!) opinion, certain social protection measures were more important than specific radiation ones: the inhabitants of contaminated areas rank the improvement of medical care and increase of financial compensation — higher than “complete decontamination”. Arkhangelskaya and Zykova (1997) conclude that special measures of social improvement and psychological support should be undertaken, not only radiation protection measures, and state that the efficiency of mitigation measures definitely depends upon their “acceptance” by the population, and active public participation in them. These appear to be useful for mitigation of the impact upon the Chernobyl liquidators as well.
       As we see, for the inhabitants of the Chernobyl radiation contaminated areas, social and psychological harmful factor of the Chernobyl Disaster are considered as dominating over the direct radiation ones, and the recommendations for the mitigation of the Disaster's impact upon this population are based upon this finding.

       Thus, comparison of the main findings of this study of the Chernobyl liquidators with the data, available on the other populations affected by ecological and social disasters, shows that the cases have many features in common, and the domination of non-direct, not-primary harmful factors' impact but psychological and social ones is a rather general regularity.

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Design by: M.Opalev
Studio ARWIS  Kharkov, 2001