Tom Catena, MD is a surgeon, veteran, catholic missionary, globally-recognized humanitarian, and inaugural Chair of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative. Founder of the Mother Mercy Hospital in Sudan’s war-ravaged Nuba mountains, Dr Catena has dedicated the last decade of his life to providing medical care as the only surgeon permanently based in a region the size of Austria. In 2017, Dr Catena was named as the Aurora Prize Laureate for his courageous work.
Tom, you have been awarded with the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity for being the only practicing doctor in the Nuba Mountains in Sudan for many years. While the region was shattered by civil war and conflict, most NGOs and humanitarian organizations left, but you stayed. How has the Corona pandemic affected your situation?
Like everywhere else in the world, the pandemic has affected us in a very negative way. First and foremost, COVID-19 has made the logistic situation in the Nuba Mountains much more complicated. Food supply lines have always been difficult here, but now the restrictions on travel have further complicated them.
Furthermore, we were planning to have a fundraising campaign in the United States this month and May. I had many meetings and speaking engagements scheduled, but we had to cancel all of them.
We also had many plans for additions at the hospital and to upgrade our medical equipment, which is likewise all put on hold now.
How well is Sudan prepared for a potential health crisis?
Nuba Mountains is an area of the size of Austria, inhabited by 1,3 million people. Currently, my hospital staff is creating masks out of pieces of cloth. We do not have any personal protection equipment, not one single hand sanitizer, not even to speak of simple soap for our patients to wash their hands with. We have zero ICU beds nor a single ventilator in all Nuba Mountains. If the virus reaches us here, we will really be in dire straits. We are taking many actions now to navigate all this. We are in a rebel territory and the rebel government has closed all points of entry into Nuba Mountains. All markets and roads have been closed, access to schools is restricted. So, our deep hope is that these measures will really keep the virus out.
After the civil revolution in 2019, the transitional Sudanese government has been embarking on a path towards peace and human rights. What danger do you see for Sudan’s democratic and economic development if COVID-19 comes to a peak in the country? Long-term Sudanese dictator Al-Bashir was deposed in April 2019, but the situation has remained fragile: Although a ceasefire between the transitional government and the rebels is in place, peace negotiations have stalled due to Corona. We hope that malevolent actors will not take advantage of this situation to restart conflict and go back to warfare. We all hope that the path towards peace will get back on track once this pandemic is over.
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