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South Sudanese Surgeon Wins Prestigious Nansen Award


South Sudanese surgeon Evan Atar Adaha speaks during a press conference in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Sept. 25, 2018, after being named the recipient of the UNHCR’s 2018 Nansen Refugee Award.

A South Sudanese surgeon has been named the winner of a prestigious U.N. award for assisting refugees.

Evan Atar Adaha received the UNHCR 2018 Nansen Refugee Award for his 20 years of providing medical services to people forced to flee conflict and persecution in Sudan and South Sudan.

Adaha, 52, is based in Bunj, Maban county, in north-eastern South Sudan, where he runs the only functional hospital, serving 144,000 refugees from Sudan’s Blue Nile State and 53,000 people comprising Maban county's population.

UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told VOA that Adaha’s hospital is surrounded by an active conflict zone. He said the doctor works under very difficult and dangerous conditions providing medical services to a desperate population.

“The only line of defense he has is his reputation and his humanitarian work. Luckily, so far, his work has been respected by all sides. His clinic is open for all sides, whoever needs his assistance,” he said.

According to the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said Adaha and his medical team carry out an average of 58 operations per week in what U.N. “with limited supplies and equipment.”

‘’There is no provision for general anesthesia, meaning doctors work with ketamine injections and spinal epidurals," UNHCR said.

The only X-ray machine is broken, the only surgical theater is lit by a single light, and electricity is provided by generators that often break down. The hospital is often crowded with patients and wards extend into the open air.

FILE - Evan Atar Adaha performs a surgery on a Sudanese youth at a hospital in Kurmuk region of Sudan's Blue Nile state, Oct. 10, 2011.
FILE - Evan Atar Adaha performs a surgery on a Sudanese youth at a hospital in Kurmuk region of Sudan's Blue Nile state, Oct. 10, 2011.

‘A shining example’

South Sudan's civil war, now in its fifth year, has killed tens of thousands and displaced more than four million people.

“Yet, even in the midst of tragedy, acts of heroism and service to others have emerged. Dr. Atar’s [Adaha’s] work through decades of civil war and conflict is a shining example of profound humanity and selflessness," said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi in a statement.

“Often risking his own safety, his dedication to serving victims of war and conflict has been extraordinary and deserves global attention and acknowledgement," he said.

Originally from Torit, in South Sudan, Adaha earned a scholarship to study medicine in Khartoum, Sudan, and afterwards practiced in Egypt.

He returned home in 1997 to establish his first hospital from scratch in Kurmuk town in Sudan’s Blue Nile state.

Increased fighting between Sudan government and the rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, Northern sector (SPLM North) forced Adaha to flee Kurmuk in 2011. He moved with his staff and equipment to Bunj in Upper Nile state where 300,000 Sudanese refugees have temporary homes.

UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award honors extraordinary service to the forcibly displaced. Recent winners include Sister Angelique Namaika from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zannah Mustapha, a lawyer and mediator from Borno state in northeastern Nigeria, and the Hellenic Rescue service and Efi Lafsoudi from Pikpa village on the Greek island of Lesbos.

The actual 2018 award ceremony will be held October 1 in Geneva, Switzerland, featuring a keynote address delivered by UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and actor Cate Blanchett.

The Nansen award is named after Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat, humanitarian and Nobel Peace Laureate Fridtjof Nansen. It consists of medal and a $150,000 prize.

Lisa Schlein contributed to this report from Geneva.

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    John Tanza

    John Tanza works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is the managing editor and host of the South Sudan In Focus radio program.