Dr. Gino Strada, Who Brought Health Care to the Desperate, Dies at 73
ROME — Dr. Gino Strada, an Italian surgeon and human rights activist who established a medical charity, Emergency, that says it has treated more …
ROME — Dr. Gino Strada, an Italian surgeon and human rights activist who established a medical charity, Emergency, that says it has treated more than 11 million people in war-torn countries, died on Aug. 13 in Honfleur, in the Normandy region of France. He was 73.
His daughter, Cecilia Strada, announced his death on Twitter. She did not cite a cause, but the Italian news media reported that he had suffered from heart problems. Dr. Strada was in Normandy on vacation.
Dr. Strada and his wife, Teresa Sarti, founded Emergency, which operates hospitals, rehabilitation centers, trauma clinics and other programs, often on the front lines of conflict, in 1994. He served as the organization’s executive director and public face.
Since its founding, Emergency has worked in 19 countries, including Rwanda, Iraq and Yemen. It is now active in eight countries, including Afghanistan.
Anyone requiring treatment is admitted to Emergency’s well-equipped hospitals, which are staffed by local residents and an international team. “We never ask, are you Arab or Kurdish or Shiite or Sunni; we just look after immediate needs,” Dr. Strada said about Emergency’s work in Iraq in a 2004 interview with The International Herald Tribune.
“Health care is a human right” became the organization’s tenet.
A 2012 article in The New York Times Magazine examined the suffering of people in the Afghan war by tracking patients in Emergency hospitals and clinics. “A patient is a patient. This is our rule,” an Emergency Afghan nurse was quoted as saying.
Through Emergency’s hospitals and centers, Dr. Strada received a direct view of the devastating effects of war and its legacy of destruction, poverty and unexploded land mines. He was an outspoken antiwar activist, and his firsthand accounts from the front lines often challenged the official narrative.
“There isn’t a war where 90 percent of the casualties aren’t civilian,” he said in the 2004 interview.
Emergency promoted a campaign that led to a ban on the production of antipersonnel land mines in Italy. It protested Italian military involvement in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is the driving force behind the African Network of Medical Excellence, whose aim is to strengthen free high-quality health systems in Africa.
Last year, Emergency joined the “People’s Vaccine” campaign, an assembly of health and humanitarian associations and individuals lobbying to ensure that free Covid-19 vaccines are made available to all.
On the day he died, as Taliban forces advanced in Afghanistan, the Turin daily La Stampa published a front-page opinion article by Dr. Strada, who had lived in the country off and on for seven years.
“We said 20 years ago that this war would be a disaster for everyone,” he wrote. “Today, the outcome of that aggression is under our eyes: a failure from every point of view. More than 241,000 victims and five million displaced.” Afghanistan, he wrote, is “a destroyed country, and those who can will try to escape and endure hell to arrive in Europe,” while only arms manufacturers have benefited from the war.
David Lloyd Webber, an Emergency spokesman in Britain, said on Wednesday that Emergency’s Surgical Center for War Victims in Kabul had been “extraordinarily busy over the last few days.”
Emergency was conceived by Dr. Strada, his wife, and friends and colleagues around the couple’s kitchen table in Milan in late 1993. The organization’s first project was begun the next year, in Rwanda. Other projects followed, including a pediatric ward in the Central African Republic, a war surgery program in the besieged city of Misrata, Libya, and two Ebola treatment centers in Sierra Leone. Emergency also set up maternity centers, clinics and first-aid posts.
In addition, it has projects in Italy to help people on the margins, often immigrants, and it established a campaign called “Nobody Left Behind” to aid Italians who lost jobs or businesses because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The organization raised 48.6 million euros ($56.7 million) in 2020, mostly from individual donors, though in recent years funding from institutions and foundations has increased. From the start, Emergency has also depended on a network of volunteers, who raise money selling T-shirts, tote bags and other items in Italy’s piazzas and at events.
In 2015 Dr. Strada won the Right Livelihood Award, an international honor given by a Swedish foundation, “for his great humanity and skill in providing outstanding medical and surgical services to the victims of conflict and injustice, while fearlessly addressing the causes of war.”
Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that came after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including floggings, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more on their origin story and their record as rulers.
Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top leaders of the Taliban, men who have spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. Little is known about them or how they plan to govern, including whether they will be as tolerant as they claim to be.
How did the Taliban gain control? See how the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan in a few months, and read about how their strategy enabled them to do so.
What happens to the women of Afghanistan? The last time the Taliban were in power, they barred women and girls from taking most jobs or going to school. Afghan women have made many gains since the Taliban were toppled, but now they fear that ground may be lost. Taliban officials are trying to reassure women that things will be different, but there are signs that, at least in some areas, they have begun to reimpose the old order.
What does their victory mean for terrorist groups? The United States invaded Afghanistan 20 years ago in response to terrorism, and many worry that Al Qaeda and other radical groups will again find safe haven there.
In his acceptance speech, Dr. Strada called contemporary war “a persistent form of terrorism against civilian populations” in which people are maimed by bullets, shrapnel, antipersonnel mines and so-called toy mines. “Treating the wounded is neither generous nor merciful, it is only just,” he said. “It has to be done.”
Gino Strada was born on April 21, 1948, in Sesto San Giovanni, an industrial town on the outskirts of Milan. His father, Mario, worked in the Falck steel plant in Sesto San Giovanni. His mother, Giuseppina Cesati, was a homemaker.
He went to medical school at the University of Milan and specialized in emergency surgery. He spent four years in the United States, working on heart and heart-lung transplant surgery at Stanford and the University of Pittsburgh. He also trained at Harefield Hospital in England and Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.
He married Ms. Sarti in 1971; she died in 2009. He is survived by his second wife, Simonetta Gola, Emergency’s head of media relations, whom he married in June, as well as his daughter, who works for the charity ResQ-People Saving People, which operates a search and recovery mission for migrants in the Mediterranean.
Dr. Sarti began working with the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1988, serving people in Pakistan, Ethiopia, Thailand, Afghanistan, Peru, Djibouti, Somalia and Bosnia. That experience laid the groundwork for Emergency.
He wrote or co-wrote three books: “Pappagalli Verdi” (“Green Parrots,” 1999), which explored his early experiences working as a surgeon in war zones; “Buskashì: Viaggio Dentro la Guerra” (“Buskashì: A Trip Inside War,” 2002), about Emergency’s efforts to reach Afghanistan after the war broke out; and “Zona Rossa” (“Red Zone,” 2015), which dealt with the Ebola outbreak.
Ms. Strada learned of her father’s death while aboard the ResQ-People Saving People ship. In her announcement of the death on Twitter, she wrote that she could not respond to the many messages she was receiving because she and the crew were saving lives (84 migrants were recovered from the sea on that day).
“It’s what he and my mother taught me,” she said.