Gino Strada / EMERGENCY

(2015, Italy)

...for his great humanity and skill in providing outstanding medical and surgical services to the victims of conflict and injustice, while fearlessly addressing the causes of war.

About

Gino Strada is an Italian surgeon and an outstanding humanitarian who has provided high-quality medical and surgical services to victims of war for two decades. From Afghanistan to Sudan, EMERGENCY, the organisation that he co-founded in 1994, runs over 60 hospitals, clinics and first aid posts, often in collaboration with local governments and operating with the aim of transferring medical knowledge and expertise to local health service professionals. Strada and EMERGENCY have also campaigned forcefully against the root causes of war and human suffering, speaking out against Italian military involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and playing a leading role in the successful campaign that resulted in Italy banning the production and use of antipersonnel landmines in 1997.

Contact Details

EMERGENCY
Via Gerolamo Vida, 11
20127 Milano
ITALY

Website

Biography

Gino Strada’s early life and development of EMERGENCY

Gino Strada was born in 1948, and graduated as a specialist surgeon from the University of Milan. After working in hospitals in Italy, South Africa and the US, Strada left a lucrative career in medicine to serve as a war surgeon with the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) from 1989 to 1994 in eight countries including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Pakistan and Somalia. In 1994, he and his wife Teresa founded the NGO EMERGENCY with the aim of providing high quality, free-of-charge medical and surgical assistance to the victims of war, landmines and poverty. While Gino Strada spent most of his time abroad performing surgery at EMERGENCY facilities, Teresa managed EMERGENCY’s administration and developed the organisation’s support base in Italy, where it now has 4,000 volunteers. Following Theresa’s death in 2009, the Stradas’ daughter Cecilia assumed the post of President of EMERGENCY.

By 2015, EMERGENCY had provided medical and surgical assistance to over 6 million people and has worked in 15 countries, building hospitals, surgical centres, rehabilitation centres, paediatric clinics, first aid posts, health care centres, maternity centres and a Centre for Cardiac Surgery. Areas of intervention and admission criteria are defined by EMERGENCY in agreement with communities and local authorities, on the basis of recognised needs and in the absence of similar interventions.

EMERGENCY sees healthcare as a basic and inalienable human right. All EMERGENCY programmes, though different, are planned and managed following the same standards and values. In all EMERGENCY centres, provision of free-of-charge and high-quality healthcare treatment is guaranteed to anyone in need, without any discrimination. EMERGENCY’s experienced international staff provide national staff with in-depth on-the-job training with the intention of handing over health facilities to local health authorities as soon as sustainability is achieved.

Responding to the emergencies of today

Today, EMERGENCY works in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Iraq, Italy, Sierra Leone and Sudan providing an effective response to recent global tragedies.

Since 2009, EMERGENCY has been operating the only free-of-charge paediatric hospital in the Central African Republic and, after the coup d’état of 2013, has sent a team of emergency surgeons who are still working in the paediatric public hospital. In the wake of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) epidemic in West Africa, and responding to a request by the Ministry of Health of Sierra Leone, EMERGENCY opened a 100-bed Ebola Treatment Centre, the only health facility in West Africa equipped and staffed to provide intensive care for EVD patients equal to what is available in Europe.

Since July 2014, EMERGENCY has been working to address the Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) crises in northern Iraq. EMERGENCY is today running five primary health centres in the Arbat and Kalar camps. From July 2014 to July 2015, EMERGENCY’s staff performed nearly 75,000 consultations in these areas. In Afghanistan, EMERGENCY operates three surgical centres, one maternity centre and 40 first aid posts since 1999, coping with the constant increase of war victims.

The Salam Centre for Cardiac Surgery

In May 2008, EMERGENCY secured the signatures of Ministers of Health from several African countries—Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda—for a “Manifesto for a Human Rights-based Medicine.” The Manifesto recognises the “right to be cured” and commits signatories to endeavour to provide healthcare based on the principles of equality, quality and social responsibility. Most importantly, the Manifesto commits the governments to providing health services free of charge for all and allocating adequate human and financial resources to implement this.

The Manifesto draws on the experience of the Salam Centre for Cardiac Surgery established by EMERGENCY in 2007 in Khartoum, the first hospital to bring high-quality cardiac surgery free of charge to Africa. Contrary to popular perception, World Health Organisation statistics indicate that cardiovascular diseases disproportionately affect people in low and middle-income countries, with 80% of deaths occurring in these countries in 2013. The Salam Centre has conducted over 5,000 surgeries and over 42,000 cardiologic examinations for patients coming from 24 countries in Africa and beyond. According to the British Medical Journal, heart surgery results in the Centre match world standards.

Responding to challenges in Italy

In the last few years, EMERGENCY has greatly expanded its work in Italy to provide access to healthcare to migrants and the poor who are denied the right to healthcare guaranteed under the Italian constitution. In September 2015, EMERGENCY opened its fifth outpatient clinic in Italy in Naples, besides assisting migrants and other vulnerable sections of the population throughout the country through its network of mobile clinics. In 2015, its mobile clinics in Sicily have provided healthcare to migrants sailing from Africa. Besides healthcare, EMERGENCY in Italy provides assistance to unaccompanied minors arriving in the country, as well as cultural mediation services.

Speaking out against war

Having experienced first-hand the civilian casualties and human misery brought by landmines, Gino Strada and EMERGENCY campaigned fervently to ensure that Italy banned the production and use of antipersonnel landmines in 1997. This was not an easy task given that Italy was one of the major producers of landmines. Following this, EMERGENCY has campaigned strongly against Italian involvement in the 2001 and 2003 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Strada took an unwavering moral and political position against the wars, notably refusing funding from the Italian Foreign Ministry for EMERGENCY’s work in Afghanistan on the grounds that it would be immoral to take funds from a government that was involved in the war to provide healthcare to the victims of that same war.

Speeches

30 November 2015

It is an honour for me to receive this prestigious award that I consider a sign of appreciation for the outstanding work that the humanitarian organisation EMERGENCY has done in the past 21 years in favour of the victims of war and poverty.

I am a surgeon. I have seen the wounded (and the dead ones) in several conflicts in Asia, in Africa, in the Middle East, in Latin America and in Europe. I did surgery on several thousands of people, injured by bullets, by shrapnel from bombs or rockets. In Quetta, the Pakistani city close to the Afghan border, I met for the first time the victims of antipersonnel mines. I did surgery on many children injured by the so-called “toy mines”, small plastic green butterflies the size of a pack of cigarettes. Scattered in the fields, these weapons wait for a curious child to pick them up and play with for a while, until the detonation occurs: one or both hands are blown away, burns over the chest, the face and the eyes. Armless and blind children. I still have vivid memories of those victims, and the view of those atrocities changed my life. It took me time to accept the idea that a “war strategy” could include practices like deliberately targeting and maiming children in the “enemy’s country”. Weapons designed not to kill but to inflict horrific sufferings to innocent children and posing a terrible burden to the families and the society. Even today, those children are for me the living symbol of contemporary wars, a persistent form of terrorism against the civilian populations.

A few years later, in Kabul, I went through the files of about 1,200 patients, to discover that less than 10 percent of them were likely to be combatants. Ninety percent of the victims were civilians, one third of them children. Is this “the enemy”? Who pays the price of war? In the past century, the percentage of civilian casualties had dramatically increased from approximately 15 percent in WWI to more than 60 percent in WWII. And in the 160 and more “major conflicts” the planet has experienced after the end of WWII, that took the lives of more than 25 million people, the percentage of civilian victims has consistently been around 90 percent of the total, very much like the data from the Afghan conflict.

Working in war-torn regions for more than 25 years, I have witnessed this cruel and sad reality, perceived the magnitude of this social tragedy, of this carnage of civilians, mostly occurring in areas with almost non-existing health facilities. Over the years, EMERGENCY has built and run surgical hospitals for war victims in Rwanda, in Cambodia, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Sierra Leone and in many other countries, then expanded its medical activities to include pediatric and maternity centers, rehabilitation centers, clinics and first-aid posts.

The origin and foundation of EMERGENCY back in 1994 did not derive from a set of principles and declarations. It was rather conceived on operating tables and in hospital wards. Treating the wounded is neither generous nor merciful, it is only just. It has to be done. In 21 years of activity, EMERGENCY provided medical and surgical assistance to more than 6,5 million people. A drop in the ocean – you might say – but that drop has made a difference for many. Somehow it has also changed the lives of those who have shared the experience of EMERGENCY, like me. Every time, in the different conflicts we have been working in, regardless who was fighting against whom and for which reason, the result was always the same: war was nothing but killing of civilians, death, destruction. The tragedy of the victims is the only truth of war. Confronted daily with this dreadful truth, we embraced the idea of a community where human relationships are founded on solidarity and mutual respect.

Indeed, this was the hope shared worldwide in the aftermath of the Second World War. This hope led to the establishment of the United Nations, as stated in the Preamble of the UN Charter: 

“To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small”.

The indissoluble link between human rights and peace and the relation of mutual exclusion between war and rights were also stressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in 1948. 

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and the “recognition of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.

Seventy years later that Declaration sounds provocative, offensive and clearly false. So far not one among the signatory States has completely implemented the universal rights they had committed to: the right to a dignified life, to a job and a home, to education and health care. In one word, the right to social justice. At the beginning of the new millennium there are no rights for all, but privileges for few. The single and most aberrant, widespread and persistent violation of human rights is the practice of war, in all its forms. Deleting the right to stay alive, war denies all human rights. I would like to stress once again that in most countries ravaged by violence those who pay the price are women and men like us, nine times out of ten. We shall never forget this. In the month of November 2015 alone, more than 4,000 civilians have been killed in several countries including Afghanistan, Egypt, France, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Syria and Somalia. Many more people have been wounded and maimed, or forced to flee from their homes.

Being witness of the atrocities of war, I have seen how turning to violence has most of the times only brought in more violence and suffering. War is an act of terrorism, and terrorism is an act of war: they share a common denominator, the use of violence. Sixty years later, we are still confronted with the dilemma posed in 1955 by leading world scientists in the so-called Russel-Einstein Manifesto: 

Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?”

Can we have a world without war to guarantee a future to the human race? Many would argue that wars have always existed. This is true but it does not prove in any way that the recourse to war is inevitable, nor can we assume that a world without war is unachievable. The fact that war has marked our past does not mean that it has to be part of our future as well. Like diseases, war shall be considered as a problem to solve, not a destiny to embrace or appreciate. As a doctor, I could compare war with cancer. Cancer vexes humanity and claims many victims: does this mean that all efforts of medicine are useless? On the contrary, it is exactly the persistence of this devastating disease that prompts us to increase the efforts to prevent and defeat it.

Conceiving a world without war is the most stimulating task the human race is facing. It is also the most urgent. Atomic scientists, through their Doomsday clock, are warning human beings: 

“The clock ticks now at just three minutes to midnight because international leaders are failing to perform their most important duty—ensuring and preserving the health and vitality of human civilization.”

The biggest challenge for the next decades is to imagine, design and implement the conditions that will allow reducing the recourse to force and to mass violence until their full disappearance.

War, just like deadly diseases, has to be prevented and cured. Violence is not the right medicine: it does not cure the disease, it kills the patient. The abolition of war is the first indispensable step in this direction.
 We may call it “utopia”, as this never occurred before. However, the term utopia does not designate something absurd, but rather a possibility that still has to be explored and accomplished. Many years ago even the abolition of slavery seemed “utopian”. In the XVIII century the “possession of slaves” was deemed as “normal”.
 A massive movement— gathering hundreds of million citizens over the years, decades and centuries—changed the perception of slavery: today we repel the idea of human beings chained and reduced to slavery. That utopia became true. A world without war is another utopia we cannot wait any longer to see materialized. We must convince millions of people that abolishing war is urgently needed and achievable. This must penetrate deeply in our consciousness, until the idea of war becomes a taboo, expelled from the human history.

Receiving the Right Livelihood Award encourages me personally, and EMERGENCY as a whole, to multiply our efforts: caring for the victims and promoting a cultural movement for the abolition of war.
 I take this opportunity to appeal to you all, to the community of the RLA Laureates to join forces and support this initiative.

Working together for a world without war is the best we can do for the generations to come. Thank you very much.

  Pictures
 Videos

Open Heart film trailer

February 2013
A trailer for the film Open Heart featuring EMERGENCY’s efforts to treat children with life threatening heart conditions in Rwanda. The film was nominated for an Academy Award (Best Documentary Short Subject) in 2013.

Trying to save a child with a "bomb" inside

CNN 60 Minutes clip, May 2014

More videos are available on EMERGENCY’s Youtube channel.

Interviews

Go away with Gino Strada – Chicago Tribune, February 2013. 
Available here.

War Surgeon Gino Strada: "Media Not Interested in Human Tragedies" of War

Interview for Democracy Now!, April 2005

Interview with Dr. Gino Strada

February 2008

Publications

Articles

Philippine teenager flies to Sudan to undergo life-saving heart surgery – The Guardian, June 2015. Available here.

Meet Gino Strada, unsung hero to the poorest victims of war – The Guardian, July 2013. Available here.

Pacifists in the Cross-Fire – New York Times Magazine, cover story, May 2012. Available here.

G. Strada. The Horror of Landmines, Scientific American, USA, 1996.Available online on PBS – 2002.

 

Books

G. Strada. Just War, Charta Editions, Italy, 2006.

G. Strada. Green Parrots: War Surgeon's Diary, Charta Editions, Italy, 2005.

G. Strada. Buskashì. Viaggio dentro la guerra, Feltrinelli, Italy, 2003.

G. Strada. Principessa di Baghdad, Guerini e Associati, Italy, 2003.

G. Strada. Medici di guerra - Inviati di pace, Guerini e Associati, Italy, 2002.

G. Strada. Afghanistan anno zero, Guerini e Associati, Italy, 2001.

 

Contact

Right Livelihood Award Foundation

Head office:
Stockholmsvägen 23
122 62 Enskede
Sweden

Phone: +46 (0)8 70 20 340
Fax: +46 (0)8 70 20 338

Geneva office:
Maison de la Paix
Chemin Eugène-Rigot 2, Building 5
1202 Geneva
Switzerland

Phone: +41 (0)22 555 09 55

E-mail: