A ruin to serve as Children’s Hospital? Angry Bulgarians call on Brussels to intervene

The concrete ruins designed to become Bulgaria's Children Hospital. [SEGA, partner of EURACTIV in Bulgaria]

A conflict is brewing in Bulgaria between civil society and the government over plans to reconstruct a 12-floor ruin, built during the last years of communism and abandoned ever since, into a children’s hospital.

Sofia is the only European capital without a children’s hospital, where seriously ill children can receive adequate and immediate care.

In Bulgaria, a child suffering from cancer needs to visit four different hospitals to be diagnosed and treated. Cardiac problems are dealt with in one place, haemodialysis is performed at a second location, a surgeon could be found at a third one.

“Bulgaria’s children die in ambulances on the way from one hospital to another,” Dr Tanya Andreeva, a paediatric specialist, told EURACTIV.bg. She is one of the activists supporting the creation of a Children’s Health Park – paediatrics with modern equipment, specialists and excellent treatment of patients and their parents.

Paediatricians in Sofia protested several months ago, demanding the creation of such a hospital. To ease tensions, the government first decided to turn one of the existing university hospitals – Lozenets – into paediatrics. The idea was later abandoned.

The new idea is to complete a building which at the moment consists of an unfinished 30-year-old concrete skeleton located in the yard of Alexandrovska Hospital. During communism, this was designed to be a paediatric institute but the construction was abandoned.

Oldie but goldie

“Years ago, a child fell from this unfinished construction and died. This is a metaphor of child health care in Bulgaria, an ugly irony of the state’s attitude towards child health. Instead of being the place where children are being treated for the past 30 years: a child perished in this unfinished construction because of the government’s carelessness,” said Dr Andreeva.

The government’s response was a €47.7 million public procurement project to design and construct the National Children’s Multipurpose Hospital. The contractor must complete the 30-year old concrete skeleton, despite warnings that the construction is worn out, having been exposed to the elements for decades.

Besides, the construction does not meet the current requirements for seismic safety.

Attack on the public procurement

The Chamber of Architects attacked the public procurement but the Bulgarian Competition Authority and the Supreme Administrative Court approved the contract anyway.

“The completion of a building whose construction started in the 1980s is inadmissible and impossible at the present time, given the current requirements for seismic resistance and other requirements for building structures that cannot be accommodated with the reconstruction of an unfinished building”, the Chamber of Architects pleaded.

The court, however, decided not to consider the arguments of architects, who will now turn to the European organisation of architects and engineers and seek independent expertise on the 12-floor concrete skeleton.

Alerts will be submitted to the European Commission and to the office of the new European Public Prosecutor, Petkana Bakalova, the vice-president of the Chamber of Architects in Bulgaria, told EURACTIV.

She explained that the court had rejected their arguments because they were not filed with the Bulgarian Competition Authority. However, the commission did not accept the demands of the architects for a full technical expertise of the project.

The Chamber urged the government to grant independent experts access to the site. The architects say that the public procurement lacks basic requirements for the microclimate, sterility, illumination, etc., as well as specific requirements for each individual unit (especially for the operating rooms, the reanimation rooms, or the haemodialysis rooms).

The health workers’ protest

A petition for a modern National Children’s Hospital, supported so far by more than 5,400 people, stated that the Sofia municipality, with the consent of the health ministry, earmarked the building for demolition already in 2011.

“This makes us doubt the safety of the building. We want a new building which is not only functional but also energy-efficient and will not need state support in the future. The hospital must serve years to the sovereign of this state – the people”, the petition said.

According to the group of architects, the completion of the old structure would be neither faster, nor cheaper than building a new one.

However, responding to MPs’ questions, Health Minister Kiril Ananiev explained that the building designated for the new paediatric hospital was inspected in February 2019 and the conclusion was that the construction could be completed.

[Translated by Kalina Angelova, edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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