Dr Evan Atar Adaha - Photo:Photo: UNHCR/Will Swanson
Photo: UNHCR/Will Swanson

Dr Evan Atar Adaha wins the 2018 Nansen Refugee Awards

The winner of this year’s Nansen Refugee Award, Dr. Evan Atar Adaha, has spent 20 years providing lifesaving medical services to people forced to flee conflict. In Bunj, South Sudan, he runs the only functional hospital, serving around 200,000 people, including 144,000 refugees.

Dr Atar and his team deliver vital care in extremely challenging conditions: the hospital has no general anaesthesia, x-ray machines, operational theatre lighting, or blood bank. Yet their resourcefulness and dedication means they carry out almost 60 operations per week.

His commitment to treating all people in medical need regardless of their background has earned him the respect of both refugee and local communities. His work shows the difference that one person can make, even when facing incredible odds.

Who is Dr Atar?

Originally from Torit, a town in southern South Sudan, Dr Atar completed his medical training in Egypt. In 1997, as war ravaged Sudan’s Blue Nile State, Dr. Atar volunteered to help those in desperate need of medical assistance. He established his first hospital from scratch and working at the heart of a large-scale conflict, often under direct aerial bombing. It was during these long years that Dr Atar learned to improvise – often using what little materials he had to hand to stop bleeding, amputate and conduct other life-saving surgeries.

In 2011, increasing violence forced him to flee with tens of thousands of other Sudanese refugees. Dr Atar was determined to take his hospital with him, desperately packing up equipment and medications into a tractor and four cars. The journey should normally have taken two days, but Dr Atar and his medical team trekked during the rainy season for one month, finally finding safety in the small town of Bunj in Maban County, South Sudan.

When he arrived in Bunj, the only medical facility was an abandoned health centre, with no operating room. Starting from scratch once again, Dr Atar performed his first surgeries by stacking tables to create a raised operating theatre.

Dr. Atar lives in a weather-beaten canvas tent in the compound next to the hospital and keeps a treadle sewing machine that he uses to make surgical linen.

He acknowledges that his choice of work has been hard on his wife and four children. He sees them only three times a year. The family lives in Nairobi and Dr Atar tries to WhatsApp and email them several times a week.

The restless surgeon says he gets his energy from drinking milk and on Sunday relaxes by going to a local church or grabbing a catnap outdoors on the bare metal springs of a rusty metal bed.

About the Nansen Refugee Award

UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award honours unsung heroes, who have gone beyond the call of duty on behalf of refugees, internally displaced or stateless people.

Source: UNHCR.