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Saving Lives

Providing Medical Aid Through a Mobile Hospital

Author: Frank Odenthal

FAIRPLANET: What is the current state of affairs in Syria and in Iraq?

SEBASTIAN JÜNEMANN: Our plan was to use our Mobile Hospital not only in Northern Iraq, but also in Syria. After the liberation of Mosul we first went to Tal Afar, then to Hawija, and right now we are in the province of Al-Anbar at the Iraqi-Syrian border area. The region is difficult to access, as it is surrounded by desert only. That might be the reason why it is considered one of the last retreats of the Islamic State (IS).
We were able to slightly improve our equipment in recent months. Among other things, we were able to rent armored cars.

Could you tell us some details about the CADUS work on the ground?

Actually, CADUS specializes in trauma patients, ie people who have been wounded either mentally or physically. However, there is currently a lack of ... well, of everything really – including primary health care.

And since we are the only ones providing medical help so close to the frontier and to the battlefields, we try to come up with primary health care in addition to the treatment of traumatized people. Otherwise nobody would.

All of our local helpers in the field in northern Iraq, which are currently between  5 and 15 men and women, work on a voluntary basis, only the long-term organizers on site get some fees. Some are only there for two weeks, others others stay with us for several weeks or months. Sometimes we treat up to 150 people a day. At some point our team will come to its limit, that's for sure. It's a really tough job in difficult conditions.

The situation on the ground, especially the political situation in Iraq and Syria, seems to be constantly changing. Has your strategy at CADUS changed in recent months as well?

We are operating just behind the front line, sometimes only a few hundred meters away. We are still the only NGO that dares to operate here. Nevertheless, it is important for us to keep a certain distance from the military, simply because we are a humanitarian organization. We cooperate with the military first and foremost in exchanging information, for example about the course of the front line and which streets have been cleared and which villages have been liberated. It was a different story in the fight for Mosul though, where the cooperation with the military was a lot closer, but that was due to the fact that there was sort of an urban warfare, with house-to-house fighting in downtown Mosul. And the threat of sleeper cells and snipers was much higher, so we tried to get as close as possible to checkpoints and military bases, just for safety reasons.

A few days ago, both Russian and Iraqi military authorities reported that the IS had been defeated. What's left behind, now that the IS is gone - the cities, the villages, the people too?

Well, the cities are largely destroyed; As far as the numbers of the dead and the injured and traumatized are concerned, I can not yet give precise numbers.

But the consequences of the war are devastating, that's for sure.

IS may be officially defeated, but there is still a risk of running into scattered IS groups who are still fighting or spreading fear and terror as snipers. When Mosul was liberated, a new front suddenly opened within the city and behind the actual front line, because a group of IS fighters had entrenched themselves in the city and opened fire.
Mines are another problem. We still can not move freely in the liberated areas, we have to rely on the Iraqi army to tell us which roads are cleared of mines and passable.

With all the different parties involved in Iraq – the IS, the Kurdish fighters, the Shiite militias, the Iraqi army, Turkey, in the background Russia, the United States, the United Nations. How does CADUS avoid being crushed between all the grindstones?

The situation on the ground is definitely complicated, you need a lot of patience and also a thick skin. At every checkpoint, of which there are a lot in northern Iraq, the question arises whether we have the right documents to pass. Again and again our onward journey gets delayed, because we have to call authorities and get new documents. That's very tiring at times, you have to be very patient. Of course: the local authorities are in charge at first; but eventually at one point it has to go on, after all, it's about humanitarian aid and sometimes every minute counts to save a human life.

During one of your missions this autumn, you were stopped and sent back by Turkey.

Yes, we were arrested by the Turkish authorities during a stop in Istanbul and then deported. For such a small NGO as CADUS, which finances itself exclusively through donations, it is severe to have to pay the flight costs twice. But Turkey plays a very opaque role in this conflict, I have to say. Erdogan classifies the Kurdish groups as terrorists. He has imposed an embargo on the region and also blocks NGOs from access. In addition, Turkish military intervenes with air strikes into the conflict - thereby violating the territorial sovereignty of both the Kurdish autonomous government, as well as the Iraqi state. Actually quite a scandal.

You already mentioned the importance of donations to CADUS. What does the current financial situation look like?

It's true, CADUS is 100% funded by donations. And unfortunately donations have declined in recent months. So far, we have not reached our target of 300,000 euros for the Mobile Hospital project. As of today, we have been able to collect about 280,000 euros, of which, however, a lot of money has already been used to cover operating costs.

In the end, we managed to get our truck 50% cheaper than actually planned, by DIY (do-it-yourself) work and again and again by improvisation.

What's next for CADUS?

Our goal was not only to provide immediate medical help, but also to ensure that local people can get their fate back into their own hands as quickly as possible. This includes a basic medical care.

The problem is that with our Mobile Hospital, we can not stay in one place long enough to be able to offer basic medical education. That's why we've come up with concepts for e-learning and telemedicine. We have developed an app with which you can download the respective content.

Does that work in a country whose infrastructure has been largely destroyed? Do people have internet access?

We have designed the app so that you can download the teaching material in portions, so for example, if you happen to have network coverage or Internet access at some point. The lessons can then be learned offline afterwards.

When will you start with that e-learning and telemedicine projects?

Basically the app is programmed and ready. We just need to get the contents translated into Arabic and Kurdish. That's not easy, because there's a big demand for translators at the moment. And if we do not find any volunteers, it's also a question of money – we assume about 50,000 euros, We still have to get the funding done.

Are there any more plans?

We would like to hand over our first Truck, our first Mobile Hospital, to a local NGO in northern Syria in the near future. But we still have to wait and see what the capacities a like then, including the knowledge of the local helpers.

Our second truck, the successor to our first Mobile Hospital, will soon be built in Berlin.

One last question: What does the name CADUS actually mean?

The name has two meanings. Firstly, Cadus refers to an old Roman wine vessel, so there is a relation to my roots in event management; but above all, the name derives from the Latin word carduus, which means thistle. The thistle is a plant that thrives where nothing else or anything else grows.

Sebastian, thank you for the interview.