A hero doctor who runs a hospital in one of the most dangerous places on Earth has revealed how he’s had to improvise surgical equipment using car parts to carry out lifesaving operations.
Lacking even the most basic equipment, the medical facility in Bunj, South Sudan, still manages to carry out more than 50 operations a week, and is the last hope for more than 200,000 people in the war-torn region.
It has no x-ray machines, generators regularly fail and patients are given ketamine before surgery because there is no anaesthetic.
Chief medic Dr Evan Atar Adahar, who only sees his family three times a year, sleeps in a tent on the hospital compound, and at night uses a sewing machine to make surgical thread for the following day’s procedures.
Dr Atar – who goes by his middle name – told MirrorOnline that saving lives requires astonishing amount of creativity.
He said: “Even if something is missing, you still have to get the operation done.
“I’ve had to take the screws from cars because we had nothing to fix the top of tubes for patients during operations.
“And we’ve used fish hooks to make needles. We can’t surrender to the lack of equipment we have.”
On another occasion he had to loot an old vehicle for parts to unscrew plates on a patient’s bone.
The 52-year-old medic will on Monday be presented with the UN Refugee Agency’s Nansen Award – the UN’s top honour given to those who help people fleeing persecution.
Speaking from the UN’s office in Geneva, Switzerland, where the presentation will take place, he said he has no intention of quitting, despite the risks he and his staff face.
Providing healthcare in the world’s newest country – which only gained independence from Sudan in 2011 – takes incredible bravery, with doctors and nurses regularly abducted and murdered by militias.
Even civilians in the region, where civil war has waged for nearly five years, are armed to the teeth.
More than 100 humanitarian workers have been slaughtered in South Sudan in the past five years, and last summer an armed group attempted to overrun the hospital.
Dr Atar said: “You have to accept living in situations where there’s danger, and not everyone can accept that.
“Last July there was violence from the youth of the area, they accused the agencies of not employing them.
“They came to the hospital with guns and we negotiated with them.
We told them that if they destroy the hospital, who will help them if they need medical help? We’re here for everyone, on all sides.
“One of the leaders came and said that no one should target the hospital.”
He rarely sees his wife and four children, who live in Nairobi, Kenya – but says he has no intention of quitting the lifesaving work he does in a region where tens of thousands have been displaced.
“I invited my family to come to the hospital and see what I was doing,” he said.
“When my wife saw what was going on, she said it was worth the sacrifices.”
Before his arrival in Bunj, he ran a hospital in Kurmuk, in Sudan’s Blue Nile State, for 14 years before being forced to move because of escalating violence and bombings between rebels and the Khartoum government.
Dr Atar set up a new hospital in a disused health centre in Bunj, where he soon realised the size of the task in hand.
“The day I arrived, on November 22, 2011, I wasn’t given a chance to organise myself before a person was brought in with a gunshot wound,” he said.
“The room wasn’t used for surgery before, it was a pharmacy, but we looked at him and realised it was really necessary to remove the bullet. I removed the door and made it into an operating table. The patient survived, and we later employed him at the hospital.”
As well as treating patients for deadly conditions including malaria, typhoid and tuberculosis, medics increasingly have to save the lives of people suffering gunshot wounds.
“Civilians have their own guns, and this is the only hospital in the region,” Dr Atar said.
Such are the dangers that staff do not venture outside the compound at night, and all patients and visitors are required to lay down their arms when they arrive.
The hospital, which is 600 miles from the country’s capital, Juba, has 120 beds and two theatres – although at busy times patients are often forced to double up. The UN Refugee Agency – which helps fund the hospital – is expecting pressure on the facility to increase still further, with another 12,000 refugees set to arrive in the region this year due to intensified fighting across the border.
But despite the brutal civil war that has engulfed South Sudan, the medic is adamant that rival factions can lay down their arms in his lifetime.
Dr Atar, who was born in Torit in the south of what is now South Sudan, said: “Everybody should be working hard to get peace in the country, including the citizens. We need to all work for peace.”
And he said his workplace is a symbol of what can be achieved, although it is not without its setbacks.
“The hospital is a neutral place, we treat everybody irrespective of who they are.”
Unfortunately efforts to house members of rival factions in wards have proved fruitless.
Dr Atar said: “We tried to put them on the same wards, but they stole the property of each group,” he rued.
“We later on separated them on different wards, but we continued to tell them that it’s not acceptable to act in that way. We should accept each other.”
On Monday he will be presented with the UN Refugee Agency’s top prize in recognition of his work.
Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said: “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, and countless men, women and children provided with a new chance to rebuild a future.”