A Humanitarian Health Organisation’s Perspective.
The second gruelling year of the Covid-19 pandemic is over. Dramatic events have left their mark on people all over the world. At EMERGENCY, we will always remember the moment in mid-summer when a sudden blow knocked the wind out of us. Gino Strada, the founder of EMERGENCY and person who led us together on this path, passed away. Since August, we have had to make our way without him. We will keep going, strengthened by the journey we have made, by the aims we strive for, by our peaceful yet fighting spirit, and by everyone who feels a need to pursue the ideals of justice and equality. Because over the years, Gino’s vision took concrete form, providing the foundations for the utopia that Eduardo Galeano described us as forever stepping towards.
We were momentarily paralysed with emotion. But the most natural way to bear his loss was to roll up our sleeves, without stopping for a minute to peer at the horizon. We had to make sure that the medical and ethical project that is EMERGENCY kept going. In Afghanistan, we continued treating people injured by war. The country has been devastated by a humanitarian crisis, the direct result of its abandonment by foreign powers. Kabul’s fate proves what we have always said: anyone who thinks war is the answer, is not thinking straight.
We went on running our projects across the African continent too. We want to be an emblem of excellent medicine here. Work carried on at our Salam Centre in Khartoum, Paediatric Centres in Port Sudan and Nyala, our Surgical Centre in Goderich, Sierra Leone, and, crucially, our Children’s Surgical Hospital in Entebbe, Uganda, a victory in our fight for access to high-quality surgical treatment. In spite of all the barriers put up by the pandemic, we managed to start medical work here in spring. This was because we believe strongly in ensuring the same quality of treatment to everyone, everywhere. And we showed the same determination in Italy too, working as hard as ever to bring treatment to the most vulnerable in society, delivering basic goods to families left in financial straits by the pandemic. As our colleagues in Iraq went on treating victims of landmines, work continued at our new cardiological clinic in Asmara, in Eritrea, which is now a cornerstone of our Regional Programme.
If mankind’s major illness were to be diagnosed, some main symptoms would be a ‘strongest-survives’ philosophy, a tendency to dehumanise the Other, and a hatred that breeds violence. Because there is violence in depriving millions of people of free, quality healthcare; there is violence in denying Covid-19 vaccinations to billions of people – the poorest; there is violence in leaving thousands of refugees to their deaths on Europe’s doorstep; there is violence in piling up arsenals; there is violence in consigning humanitarian crises to a small column at the bottom of a newspaper page; and there is violence in giving grand speeches on history but not following them up with grand actions to change its course.
Limits – like borders – will exist as long as we fail to overcome them. First of all, we have to overcome our limits, which encourage us to take a territorial view of the world, to appoint ourselves the judges of who should be included and who should be excluded. Nowhere is a cut-off, self-sustaining piece of land; we are one community. And therein lies my wish for 2022. Let us, members of that same community, rediscover each other. There will never be peace, there will never be health, if we cannot find one another in a place where we all have the same rights and duties. The prognosis is not good for us now, but it could be, if only we create a society where, rather than placing our trust in the heavens, we rely on each other and on our own sense of responsibility. We have the resources, enough to take care of everyone; it’s up to us whether to put them towards the common good.
Some of us at EMERGENCY had the privilege to work and grow side by side with Dr Gino. Others never met him but still felt united by his words and by the example he set; united under the red letter ‘E’ that will never fade, that symbolises a guarantee of equal rights and dignity for so many. We will never stray from our path. We want to go on providing a practical response to the needs of the most vulnerable among us, and we will, thanks to the support and participation of everyone who values our work and truly feels that their own life is tied up with the lives of others.
We will make the right to treatment a real, universal one – and a precondition of peace.
– Rossella Miccio, President of EMERGENCY