Gino Strada: Italian war surgeon who believed in health care for everyone

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Gino Strada, an Italian surgeon who helped bring medical care to the poorest, war-torn corners of the world and build hospitals and clinics through a non-profit organization known internationally for its humanitarian work, is at the age of 73 died.

The cause, according to his wife, Simonetta Gola, communications director at Emergency, the Milan-based NGO that Strada co-founded in 1994. As a heart and heart-lung transplant specialist, he once suffered a heart attack while working in the embattled Iraqi region of Kurdistan during the Saddam Hussein regime.

For decades, Strada pursued a campaign with seemingly single-minded devotion to ensure that no military operating room can do without an operating room, the sanctuary of medicine where surgeons, sometimes against all odds, use their art to prolong or save lives that otherwise could get lost.

He and his colleagues from Emergency have built hospitals, surgical centers, maternal and child wards and other medical facilities in 19 countries including Cambodia, Serbia, Eritrea, Nicaragua and Sri Lanka, and have cared for more than 11 million people over the years, so the organization. Strada personally performed 30,000 surgeries, The Observer reported once.

Strada’s group operates mainly through private donations. Most of his patients are civilians – victims of land mines, improvised explosive devices, bombings, suicide attacks, and diseases that thrive in communities without adequate sanitation and medical care. The organization cared for Ebola patients in Sierra Leone and at the Salam Center for Cardiac Surgery in Khartoum, Sudan, children whose hearts had been damaged by rheumatic fever.

Strictly neutral in all conflicts, Emergency also treats combatants; In Afghanistan, where he lived for a total of seven years for decades, Strada once negotiated with leaders of the Taliban and the rival Northern Alliance to ensure the safety of emergency patients on both sides of the conflict, The New York Times reported.

The NGO Starda, co-founded in 1994, has helped 11 million patients

(AFP / Getty)

At the center of Strada’s work was his conviction that the accident of one’s own birth – whether in a rich or poor country, a nation at peace or at war – should not determine the quality of medical care.

“If you see medicine as a human right, you can’t have hospitals that offer sophisticated, very effective, high-tech medicine,” he said The Observer“And then go to Africa and think, ‘Okay, here are some vaccinations and some syringes.” Do we think that we humans, we are all equal in rights and dignity or not? We say: ‘Yes, we are.’ “

He and his colleagues at Emergency thought a medical facility was “good enough” only if “you would be happy to see one of your family members treated there.”

Strada renounced any neutrality in questions of war policy. He opposed Italy’s involvement in Kosovo in 1999 and the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. In 1997, Italy banned the manufacture, sale and export of anti-personnel mines because of its support for Emergency.

The day Strada died, the Italian newspaper La Stampa published a commentary he wrote on the catastrophic US withdrawal from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of war. Emergency opened the first of dozen clinics in the country in 1999.

“I saw the wounded and violence increase as the country became increasingly engulfed by instability and corruption,” he wrote. “We said 20 years ago that this war was going to be a catastrophe for everyone. Today the result of this aggression is before our eyes, a failure in every respect. “

In 1999 Strada spoke out loudly against Italy’s involvement in Kosovo

(AFP / Getty)

Luigi Strada was born on April 21, 1948 outside Milan in the city of Sesto San Giovanni. His father was a steel worker, his mother a housewife.

After studying medicine at the University of Milan, Strada continued his surgical training in the USA at Stanford University and the University of Pittsburgh, as well as in England and South Africa.

A self-proclaimed “surgical animal” best at home in the operating room, Strada worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross in countries like Pakistan, Ethiopia, Thailand, Afghanistan, Somalia and Bosnia before starting emergencies with his then wife , Teresa Sarti, whom he married in 1971. They provided their first medical services in Rwanda following the genocide there, in which Hutu extremists killed an estimated 800,000 people in 100 days.

Sarti died in 2009. Her daughter Cecilia Strada was informed of her father’s death on board a ship in the Mediterranean, where she supported the rescue operations for migrants with the non-profit organization ResQ – People Saving People.

Strada and Gola were married in June. The survivors include his wife and daughter, both from Milan, as well as a grandson.

After working in remote outposts around the world for decades, Strada found his services towards the end of his life in his native Italy, the first western country to be struck by the coronavirus in 2020, in need of medical care in badly affected cities, delivery services for vulnerable people during the Lockdown as well as free food and other goods for Italians affected by the economic fallout from the pandemic, the emergency website said.

“Perhaps now is the moment”, Strada remarked on Italian television last year, “to get the situation under control in order to imagine another world, a fairer world”.

“Solidarity,” he said, “is the new virus that I hope will infect all of Europe.”

Gino Strada, doctor, born April 21, 1948, died August 13, 2021

© The Washington Post


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