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Emergency: Meet the Staff

Dr. Gino Strada, Emergency's founder and chief surgeon, answers questions about the health situation in Afghanistan and Emergency's work there over the past 5 years.

POV: Who were you and (Medical Coordinator) Kate Rowlands talking to on the phone throughout the film?

Dr. Gino Strada: We had several conversations with the EMR Head Office in Milan, with the EMR [Emergency] staff in Panchir [Panjshir] (where the other EMR Surgical Center is located) as well as with the political and military authorities of the Northern Alliance.

POV: How long have you and Kate been in Afghanistan? Tell us your history with the Emergency organization and why Afghanistan has become such a focus of your work?

Strada: Kate and I have both spent approximately 5 years each in Afghanistan from 1991/1992 till now. I am one of the EMR founding members in 1994, and Kate joined EMR one year later. She was in charge of the EMR program in Iraq for 3 years, before taking over Afghanistan at the beginning of the operations in February '99.

This is our biggest program, that ranges from surgical assistance to rehabilitation of war victims, as well as social projects (education, assistance to the widows and the most needy families) and primary health care projects in rural areas. In addition, EMR is running a medical project in the prisons, ensuring medical and surgical care for the prisoners. We were able to register and visit all prisoners in the country, even during the Taliban period, and to exchange prisoners between the Talibans and the Northern Alliance. The only prisoners we were unable to see have been those detained by the US forces: despite written requests we never had an answer on the matter by the highest US officials.

POV: What has been your experience with journalists and coverage in Afghanistan? Is the coverage accurate - is it possible to find accurate coverage?

Strada: Most journalists have accurately avoided [covering] the main issue related to Afghanistan after September 11th, that is the killing of thousands of civilians (innocent victims, like those who died at the WTC) by the American bombing.

P.O.V: In the beginning of the film, Kate Rowlands talks about the lack of medicines and humanitarian aid in Afghanistan. What are the biggest problems in Afghanistan now? Landmines? Inadequate access to healthcare? Bombings? Violence? Lack of supplies/medicines?

Strada: Afghanistan remains one of the most deprived countries in the world. 23 years of war (and peace is definitely not on the horizon!) have shattered the country and before September 11th the so called international community has simply ignored or censured the tragedy of the Afghan people.

POV: What other relief organizations are active in Afghanistan? Were you literally the only hospital in Kabul in the early months of 2002?

Strada: Even now the EMR Surgical Center in Kabul is the only high standard facility totally free of charge. EMR has been the only agency which decided to stay in Afghanistan after September 11th, and we were in Kabul at the time of the take-over by the mujaheddin.

POV: There weren't very many women being treated in the clinic in the course of the film. Can you talk about the healthcare situation for women in Afghanistan? Do they have special hospitals? Do they avoid seeking out care?

Strada: Women have been dramatically affected by the lack of medical care, also as a result of cultural factors and the segregation imposed by the Talibans. However, we must not forget that two thirds of the Afghan population simply do not have access to any kind of medical infrastructure, particularly in rural and remote areas.

POV: It seems like you see more children than adults in the Emergency clinic. Is this true?

Strada: Children represent approximately 30 percent of the war casualties. In our experience (statistics from our 2 Centers) 85 percent of the war victims were civilians.

POV: Are there any organizations in Afghanistan educating children about landmines?

Strada: It would be interesting to know how effective mine awareness projects are: unfortunately most children —like the rest of the population— have no alternative to living in very hazardous areas.

POV: What can people do to help?

Strada: Stop thinking of war and killing like means to solve the problems and help independent, non-political and effective humanitarian projects.

POV: Has anyone on your staff ever been attacked or injured? Can you speak to what it's like to be an aid worker in a country at war?

Strada: Difficult, stressful, dangerous, but at the same time necessary and very rewarding. Of course we had security problems on several occasions, the danger can only be minimized but it is always present in a country at war.

For more information about Emergency, you can visit their website at www.emergency.it or you can email a question to ketty@emergency.it.





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