South Sudanese doctor wins UN prize for treating refugees

South Sudanese doctor wins UN prize for treating refugees
October 8, 2018 John Inglis-Jones

A South Sudanese surgeon, who has spent two decades helping refugees, has been announced the winner of the UN refugee agency’s prestigious Nansen award.

Dr. Evan Atar Adaha has been named the 2018 winner of UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award. Atar is being honoured for his outstanding 20-year commitment in providing medical services to people forced to flee conflict and persecution in Sudan and South Sudan, as well as to the communities that welcome them.

Dr. Atar is based in Bunj, in north-eastern South Sudan, where he runs the only functional hospital, serving more than 200,000 people. These include 144,000 refugees from Sudan’s Blue Nile State and the local Maban County population of about 53,000.

His team at Maban hospital carries out an average of 58 operations per week in difficult conditions with limited supplies and equipment.

There is no provision for general anesthaesia, meaning doctors work with ketamine injections and spinal epidurals. The only x-ray machine is broken, the only surgical theatre is lit by a single light, and electricity is provided by generators that often break down. Since it is the only hospital in Upper Nile State, it is often crowded with patients and wards extend into the open air.

“The crisis in South Sudan has had a devastating impact on millions of people uprooted from their homes, or whose lives have been torn apart by conflict, violence and food insecurity,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “Yet, even in the midst of tragedy, acts of heroism and service to others have emerged.

For Dr. Atar, running the hospital is more than just a job- it’s a calling. His wife and four children live in neighboring Kenya, and he only sees them a few times per year. But every day he is reminded that the personal sacrifices he makes are small compared to saving the lives of displaced people who have nowhere else to turn.

UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award honours extraordinary service to the forcibly displaced. Dr Atar was presented with his award at a ceremony on 1st October and Cate Blanchett, a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, paid tribute to him.

Blanchett raved about his work in her keynote address. “The award tonight marks a great humanitarian achievement,” she said. “It is a formalized way of saying ‘thank you’ to one person specifically, but perhaps most importantly, it carries with it the inexpressible thanks to all who work in humanitarian fields — often at great personal cost.”

Photo by CYRIL ZINGARO/POOL/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9908103e)

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