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Russia releases supplies critically needed at children's hospital

After a 16-month delay, Russian customs officials have finally started to release $900,000 worth of U.S. medical supplies that were donated to treat sick children, a newspaper said Wednesday.

The shipment contains 18 tons of cardiac equipment and supplies sent by the Heart-to-Heart International Children's Alliance, based in Oakland, Calif. The shipment was impounded by Russian customs officials after they found an undocumented drug in one of the containers.Officials last week cleared the first of four containers, which was headed for Children's Hospital No. 1 in St. Petersburg, the English-language daily Moscow Times reported.

"When we get the rest, it will be like a holiday," Anatoly Kagan, the hospital's chief doctor, was quoted as saying.

With the U.S. shipment stranded since June 1996, the cash-strapped hospital cut patients' rations to free up funds for other supplies and also had to sterilize and reuse equipment that normally would be thrown out.

Hospital officials blamed the logjam on the Russian Health Ministry, which twice lost documents provided by the hospital.