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The South Sudan Bush Doctor helps 200,000 refugees

July 03, 2019
topic:Refugees and Asylum
tags:#South Sudan, #refugees, #healthcare, #Africa, #human rights, #migration, #Doctor Evan Atar Adaha
located:South Sudan
by:Bob Koigi
A broken X ray machine, spotty electrical power, a dimly lit theatre room and generators that are constantly breaking down best captures the situation at Maban Referral Hopsital in Bunj area. Located at the South-eastern corner of South Sudan’s Upper Nile State, it attends to over 200,000 people, mostly refugees, who have been displaced by the prolonged deadly conflict in Africa’s youngest nation.

Doctor Evan Atar Adaha, the brains behind the only hospital in the Upper Nile region, is also the only surgeon in the area. He has braved tough times, limited medical supplies and harassment to provide medical attention to the needy for more than 20 years. From pregnant mothers, to children battling Malaria, to wounded soldiers, Dr Atar has breathed new life into a population the world seems to have forgotten. He is referred to some as the ‘bush doctor’ due to the tough conditions he operates in.  

Dr Atar who comes from Torit area of South Sudan received his early education in Juba before moving to Khartoum in Sudan for his secondary education. He qualified for a scholarship to study medicine in Egypt. And even as the educated Sudanese choose to stay and look for jobs abroad, Atar decided to go back to Sudan at the height of the 1997 civil war to offer his services despite warnings from his friends who advised him that he would be killed. He set up a basic health facility at a disused location in Kurmuk in Sudan’s Blue Nile State. The signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 that brought an end to the prolonged conflict between the government and the rebel group, Sudan People's Liberation Movement, brought relative calm, allowing Dr Atar to receive medical supplies from government and donors. But that would be short-lived as war broke out in 2011 in the Blue Nile region, forcing tens of thousands more to flee. Dr Atar joined the fleeing refugees together with his team carrying whatever medical equipment they could salvage. It took one month to trek to Bunj state in the Upper Nile region.

But the area is equally volatile with communities always up in arms over limited resources including grazing and farming land. He would come face to face with the severity of the situation when during his first days, as he was looking for a place to establish a hospital, a patient with a bullet lodged in his intensities was brought to him.

With limited resources, he was forced to look for a broken door that acted as the operating table. Together with his team, he was able to save the young man who now works in the hospital receiving patients and controlling the queues.

Maban Hospital has withstood the intermittent conflicts in the area due to its open-door policy of treating every patient irrespective of the side of the conflict they belong to.

It is a tough call for the 120-bed hospital that has no blood bank as people in the area are sceptical about donating blood arguing that they would die. Limited anaesthesia means the hospital has to make do with ketamine injections and spinal epidurals. The IV bottles are re-used after surgery and for tubing purposes where a catheter is ordinarily used, they use a hollow grass stem.

With limited bed capacity in the maternity ward (30 beds), means two pregnant women share one bed. But even with such hiccups Dr Atar, assisted by three other doctors, a few midwives and administration staff are able to carry out on average 58 operations every week. The majority of the patients are refugees from the Blue Nile State but there are also internally displaced persons coming from Ethiopia, Congo, and the Central African Republic.

“We treat everyone here regardless of who they are — refugee, internally displaced, host community. I am most happy when I realise that the work that I have done has saved somebody from suffering or has saved his life”, Dr Atar said in an earlier interview.

It is a tough call for Dr Atar and his team in a country where those who have taken the vocation of providing healthcare to the most vulnerable have had to contend with kidnappings and murder by militias. Since 2013 over 100 humanitarian workers have been murdered in Sudan according to the United Nations with the country being ranked as the most dangerous place for humanitarian workers.

The world has taken note of Dr Atar’s work. In September last year the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, named him as the recipient of the Nansen Refugee Award to celebrate his unwavering dedication to the pain of the suffering and vulnerable in conflict. The prize is awarded annually to organisations or individuals who have shown exceptional services to displaced people. It is named after Fridtjof Nansen, the first high commissioner for prisoners of war and refugees for the League of Nations.

"Dr Atar's work through decades of civil war and conflict is a shining example of profound humanity and selflessness. Through his tireless efforts, thousands of lives have been saved", said Filippo Grandi the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
South Sudan
Dr. Evan Atar Adaha – Official winner of the 2018 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award
Embed from Getty Images
But what started as shelter for refugees fast transformed into a village complete with a family structure as more people came to seek refuge.
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