Dr. Evan Atar is a South Sudanese doctor who won a UN award for treating Sudanese refugees in Maban hospital in Northern Upper Nile State.
The award honors unsung heroes, who have gone beyond the call of duty on behalf of refugees, internally displaced or stateless people. Established in 1954, the award is named after the intrepid Norwegian polar explorer, statesman and Nobel Peace Prize laureate – Fridtjof Nansen.
Dr. Evan Atar originally comes from Torit state, one of the 32 states in South Sudan, He completed his medical training in Egypt in 1997 and was employed there after completing his study. But after about six months, he received a call from late Dr. John Garang asking him to come home and treat the wounded.
Dr. Atar who never hesitated to accept the call, came immediately to Kurmuk in Sudan’s Blue Nile region, and there his journey began. He started treating wounded SPLA soldiers during the struggle.
Speaking to Eye Radio on October 11, 2018, Dr. Atar said he volunteered to help those in desperate need of medical assistance. He said due to lack of medicines, he established his first bush-clinic with 1 bag of salt and some pieces of white clothes to treat the wounded soldiers.
Dr. Atar said he is often under direct aerial bombing. He believes that professionals shouldn’t commercialize the profession and prioritized the humanitarian aspect of being a doctor.
I’m really humbled to be the winner of this award,” he told Radio Miraya, which is part of UNMISS; the UN’s Mission in South Sudan. “I think it will be good for us in the hospital, and we will be able to get at least some resources to continue to save lives in the area which is really isolated”.
South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after a peaceful referendum. However, a civil conflict now in its fifth year has forced almost 1.9 million people to flee their homes within the country, and another 2.5 million people have had to seek refuge across the border.
“The crisis in South Sudan has had a devastating impact on millions of people who have been uprooted from their homes, or whose lives have been torn apart by conflict, violence and food insecurity,” said Filippo Grandi, UNHCR’s High Commissioner. “Yet, even in the midst of tragedy, acts of heroism and service to others have emerged”.
Dr. Atar is currently the head surgeon and medical director of the only functional hospital in Upper Nile State, in the north of South Sudan, serving an area larger than Ireland. Based in the remote town of Bunj, the hospital serves more than 200,000 people, including 144,000 refugees from Sudan. His team at Maban hospital carries out an average of 58 surgical operations per week, in difficult conditions with limited supplies and equipment.
Dr. Atar’s work through decades of civil war and conflict is a shining example of profound humanity and selflessness,” said the UNHCR chief. “Often risking his own safety, his dedication to serving victims of war and conflict has been extraordinary and deserves global attention and acknowledgement,” Mr. Grandi said.
Originally from Torit, a town in southern South Sudan, Dr. Atar studied medicine in Khartoum, Sudan, and practiced in Egypt. In 1997, as war ravaged Sudan’s Blue Nile State, he volunteered to work there. In 2011, as the conflict intensified, he was forced to flee with his staff and as much equipment as he could transport. After a month, he arrived in Bunj, where he stacked up some tables to set up his first surgical theatre in an abandoned local health centre, and he is fighting daily to secure funding and train others to become nurses and midwives.
“There is nothing we can achieve in South Sudan unless we sacrifice a number of things,” he said. “We have to continue even if the situation is difficult.”
The award includes a $150,000 grant, which Dr. Atar said he will use to solve challenges in the hospital and invest the money in improving the structure of the building, procure much-needed equipment, and build the capacity of the staff.
The prize was presented by Mr. Grandi during an event in Geneva on Monday, featuring speeches and performances by world renowned artists and advocates, including Australian actor Cate Blanchett, British-Indian sitar player Anoushka Shankar, Syrian ballet dancer Ahmad Joudeh and Norwegian popstar, Sigrid.