A South Sudanese surgeon, who spent two decades helping sick and injured in the war-torn east African nation, is the winner of a UN prize for treating thousands of people forced to flee violence and persecution.
Evan Atar Adaha – a 52-year-old doctor who runs the only hospital in Maban county – was given the 2018 Nansen Refugee Award for his “humanity and selflessness” where he often risked his safety to serve others, the UN said.
“I feel humbled. I hope this award can help draw attention to the plight of refugees especially here in Africa where they are often forgotten,” Adaha told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“You may hear and read about them, but it’s only when you are face-to-face with people who have lost everything and are sick with malaria, or are malnourished, or have a bullet wound that you realise how desperate the need for help is.”
Nansen Refugee Awardees are recognised by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) for dedicating time to help people forced from their homes. Former awardees include Eleanor Roosevelt and Luciano Pavarotti.
South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, has been ravaged by civil war since 2013 after clashes erupted between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar.
Government recently signed a peace agreement with rebels, but the five-year-long war had a devastating impact.
At least 50,000 people were killed and one in three South Sudanese have been uprooted from their homes. The country hosts around 300,000 refugees fleeing violence in neighbouring Sudan, according to the UN.
Adaha, known locally as Dr Atar, has been running Maban hospital – once an abandoned health clinic – in Bunj since 2011.
When he first arrived there was no operating theatre and he stacked tables to create a work area.
Over the years, he transformed the hospital and built a maternity ward and nutrition centre, as well as training young people as nurses and midwives.
The 120-bed hospital now serves around 200,000 people living in Maban County – 70% of who are Sudanese refugees – and conducts about 60 operations weekly under difficult circumstances.
The only x-ray machine is broken, the operating theatre has only one light and electricity is provided by generators that often break down.
Although the hospital receives support from UNHCR, Adaha said a lack of funds remains his biggest challenge to treating everyone who needs help.
“In the hospital, we will treat anyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a rebel, government soldier, refugee or a local person. We have pregnant women, malnourished children and even people wounded by bullets,” Adaha said.
“The one rule we have is no weapons are allowed in the hospital. If you bring a weapon we will not treat you. Sometimes it is difficult, but most people now agree.”
The Nansen Refugee Award ceremony takes place on October 1 in Geneva and the winner will receive $150,000 to fund a project complementing their work.