Beloved Italian war surgeon Gino Strada dies aged 73

Beloved Italian war surgeon Gino Strada dies aged 73
Tributes paid to doctor whose NGO set up world-class hospitals in war zones such as Iraq, Yemen and Sudan
3 min read
14 August, 2021
Gino Strada was born in Sesto San Giovanni Italy on 21 April 1948 [Getty]

Heroic Italian doctor Gino Strada, who dedicated his life to treating victims of war, has died on Friday aged 73.

Strada, a medical surgeon by training, was the co-founder of NGO Emergency, which runs world-class hospitals in conflict zones such as Afghanistan, Sudan and Iraq providing free medical care. 

He died in France after suffering from heart disease for some time, according to laRegione. 

Strada was born in Sesto San Giovanni Italy in April 1948 and studied Medicine and Surgery in Milan. He then moved to the United States to work on heart and heart-lung transplant surgeries and later moved to England and South Africa, where he trained at Harefield Hospital and Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.

He embarked on a mission to help heal those caught up in some of the world's bloodiest and most intractable conflicts, including in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen.

Emergency began its work in Rwanda during the genocide, and says it has gone on to treat more than 11 million people in 19 countries.

The organisation currently operates in Afghanistan, where it has a world-renowned surgical centre, Eritrea, Iraq, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Yemen and Sudan, as well as Italy.

Tributes to the Italian poured out on social media, as friends, colleagues and politicians praised his principled approach to life and relentless fight to relieve the destruction and inhumanity of war.

"A sense of justice, lucidity, rigour, vision: these were the things that were immediately apparent in Gino," read a statement by Emergency. 

Emergency was set up in 1994 with Strada's wife, Teresa Sarti, who died in 2009. The organisation is guided by the principle that access to health care and standards of care should be the same for everyone across the world. 

Strada's first project with Emergency was in Rwanda. The organisation has since worked in 19 other countries. 

"Do we think that we human beings...are all equal in rights and dignity, or not? We say, 'Yes, we are'," said the late doctor. 

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi praised Strada’s "professionalism, courage and humanity" in a public statement. 

President of the European Parliament David Sassoli tweeted: "Farewell Gino Strada, maestro of humanity."

Fellow humanitarian and friend Giles Duley said: "There was a man who stood up and said what many of us believe: That the cause of so many problems in this world is war, and militarisation."

"Among [Strada's] last thoughts, he was thinking of Afghanistan yesterday," Emergency’s statement read. 

The NGO started operated in Afghanistan in 1999 and has so far treated over 7 million people in the country. 

"The war is not over!" said Strada about Afghanistan in a 2013 Guardian article. "It's absolutely criminal...I mean, you know NATO forces, they have their own back-up system. Their own medical facilities. And for the population, there is nothing left."

Following the withdraw of NATO and US troops - starting in May this year - the Taliban now hold half of Afghanistan's 34 provincial capitals and control more than two-thirds of the country. Some 400,000 Afghans have been forced to flee their homes since the start of 2021. 

"What we can do with our own strength is perhaps less than a drop in the ocean. But I remain of the opinion that is better that it is there, that drop, because if it were not there it would be worse for everyone," said the late doctor.