I am not a pacifist.
I am against war.
Professor Luigi Strada (best known as Gino Strada) was born in Sesto San Giovanni (Milan, Italy) in April 21, 1948. He graduated at the Medical School of University of Milan and specialized in Emergency Surgery at the Postgraduate School of the same University in 1978, by the age of thirty. Professor Gino Strada worked either as a resident or a visiting surgeon in several Hospitals and Colleges around the world, such as the Groote Schuur Hospital (Capetown, South Africa), the Harefield Hospital (Harefield, U.K), the Stanford University (California, USA) or the Department of Cardiovascular Surgery of the Hospital of Bergamo (Italy). In 1988, he joined the International Committee of the Red Cross mission in Pakistan and has worked as a war surgeon ever since. He built his career as a heart-lung surgeon, performing heart-lung transplant and trauma surgery in countries and regions of the world desolated by conflict and war, namely Pakistan, Ethiopia, Peru, Djibuti, Somalia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, where he has been treating children afflicted by rheumatic fever. In 1994, Professor Gino Strada and his wife, Teresa Sarti Strada, founded the UN-recognized Non-Governmental Organization Emergency, a non-profit humanitarian association providing medical and surgical assistance to victims of war, part of whom were civilians injured by landmines. Nowadays, Emergency has dozens of healthcare centres worldwide, operates eight hospitals in areas of conflict (such as Syria, Libya or Central African Republic) and has fifty-four “First Aid Posts-Health Care Centers”, located either in heavily landmined areas or close to the front lines, and connected to the Emergency hospitals’ network. In Afghanistan alone, it operates four hospitals and thirty-four clinics, working with more than four thousand volunteers. Besides that, Emergency’s services count with a maternity centre expanded to deliver up to seven thousand babies a year and with a paediatric facility in Uganda. Its hospital in Sudan is so clean that infection rates are lower than those seen in hospitals in the UK and the US… To these days, Emergency provided medical services to more than seven million patients, in seventeen countries (one patient, every two minutes, for over twenty two years). Professor Strada himself practiced as Chief Surgeon in Rwanda, northern Iraq, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Eritrea until the year of 2007 and, up to 2014, as Cardiac Surgeon at the Salam Centre for Cardiac Surgery in Sudan. He has personally operated on thirty thousand people.
The philosophy behind the creation of Emergency was that “Every human being has the right to be cured regardless his economic or social condition, gender, race, language, ethnicity, religion and opinions. Standards of healthcare, set by the progress of medical knowledge, should be delivered equally and without discrimination to all patients.” Emergency, therefore, declares its facilities weapons-free zones. Its work extends from promoting peace and providing healthcare to building and running hospitals, and training medical staff along local doctors and nurses.
In 1996, Professor Strada published a scientific American cover story called “The Horror of Landmines” and the book he wrote in 2000 sharing his memoirs, “Green Parrots, A War Surgeon’s Diary”, was reprinted over thirty-five times in Italy and won a prize. He was awarded for “Buskashi, A Journey Inside War”, in 2002, and in 2005 he wrote “Just War”. His work was the subject of an award winning documentary “Jung in the Land of the Mujaheedin” and a PBS Point of View, “Afghanistan Year 1380”. The documentary “Open Heart”, about the Salam Centre, was nominated for an Oscar in 2013.
Through his books and documentaries, Professor Strada’s vision and work have spread and reached such a level of influence that his campaign helped persuade Italy to abandon the use and manufacture of anti-personnel mines. Emergency gathered with other strongly politically-positioned organizations and launched a campaign against the invasion of Iraq, in 2002, and against the war in Afghanistan, in 2011. His influence does not stop here. When dialogue seemed utopic, Professor Gino Strada achieved the feat of negotiating with the Taliban in order to operate a hospital behind their frontlines, and he has played a crucial role in the release of people abducted by the hostile group. This talent was developed through a vast and intense experience working in the centre of crossed fire. Now and then, some of his facilities are bombed, destroyed and need to be rebuilt, such as the surgical hospital and the maternity hospital in Rwanda, many years ago. Professor Strada has even found himself under direct fire when Saddam’s forces in Iraqi Kurdistan attacked a hospital where he was operating at the time.
In 2001, Professor Strada won the Colombe d’Oro per la Pace and recently, in October 2015, was distinguished with the Swedish “Right Livelihood” prize, which many consider as an “alternative Nobel Prize”, created to honour and support men and women that offer practical solutions to today’s most urgent matters. This is a proof of recognition for Professor Strada’s great humanity and capacity to provide medical and surgical services of excellence to the victims of war, injustice and poverty, while standing up for our fundamental rights and values (expressed by the UNO) and lifting the veil to the motives of war.