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.
Gino Strada (1948-2021) was an Italian surgeon and an outstanding humanitarian who 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 collaborating with local governments and operating to transfer 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.
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 of 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 to provide 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 Teresa's death in 2009, the Stradas' daughter Cecilia assumed the post of President of EMERGENCY.
By 2021, EMERGENCY had provided medical and surgical assistance to over 11 million people and has worked in 19 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, based on recognised needs and in the absence of similar interventions.
EMERGENCY sees healthcare as a fundamental and inalienable human right. All EMERGENCY programmes, though different, are planned and managed following the same standards and values. In all EMERGENCY centres, free-of-charge and high-quality healthcare treatment are guaranteed to anyone in need, without any discrimination. EMERGENCY's experienced international staff provide national staff with in-depth on-the-job training to hand 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. After the coup d’état of 2013, a team of emergency surgeons who are still working in the paediatric public hospital has sent a team of emergency surgeons. 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 provide 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 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 had provided healthcare to migrants sailing from Africa. Besides healthcare, EMERGENCY in Italy assists unaccompanied minors arriving in the country and 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 Afghanistan and Iraq's 2001 and 2003 wars. 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.
Strada passed away on August 13, 2021, at the age of 73.