Gino Strada, Emergency and the Red Cross


From Emergency, I’ve received a letter written by Gino Strada.

”People in Milan have told me about the surprising interview with Alberto Cairo , «the Italian medic 16 years in Afghanistan», published in “Magazine”. Who knows why the newspapers continue to define Alberto Cairo as a medic and who knows why Alberto Cairo regularly doesn’t correct them? He knows that he’s not. He’s a doctor in law and a professional physiotherapist.
Thus after saying that the 2006 opium harvest «will be a great year, definitely even better than the best harvest in 1999», the Italian physiotherapist talks about the world: about drugs about Karzai, of humanitarian aid, about Maurizio Scelli. He’s got a word about everything.
«People are starting to no longer trust the symbol of the Red Cross». What a scoop! He has realised a few years late, even Alberto Cairo who is working for the Red Cross, well for the ICRC {International Committee of the Red Cross}, the original unit in Geneva where the Red Cross movement started.

Unfortunately, we have been aware of this for a long time. And we are aware that the « people ». even here in Afghanistan and not only in Iraq, are perfectly right not to trust them.

At the time of the soviet occupation the ICRC leaders defined the Mujahideen as «the Afghan resistance ».(there are hundreds of reports and documents with this definition), but at the time of the American occupation (and Italian!) those that fight against the occupying forces are all called by Cairo simply «Taliban». This is to be seen in the light of the «neutrality».that is one of the sacred and publicised principles of the ICRC. « And the Americans have been fighting them for 5 years», states the physiotherapist.

That’s very true. For 5 years in Afghanistan there have been attacks, assassinations, kidnappings, disappearances, torture and bombing. I would say that the word “war” describes the situation well.

But no. At least according to Cairo, who doesn’t miss a chance, for him a true hobby, he directs arrows against “Emergency”. Apparently I am «really clever at doing publicity». Thank you I am pleased.

But then, to give substance to the calumny, he is precise: «his hospitals look after the people injured in war. But the war is over».
Naturally, the hospitals are not mine but they are run by Emergency. However, this war is strange according to Cairo’s vision. For a bit, it’s there, for a bit it’s not. There’s fighting but it’s finished. There’s shooting but no one is injured. I’ve got the impression that if Emergency decided to open a burns department, Dr Cairo would say that fire doesn’t burn. That’s his problem.
In 2000 when Emergency decided to open a Centre in Kabul to look after the victims of war, the ICRC was furious. They protested to the Italian Embassy in Islamabad (the one in Kabul was closed), with the Ministry of Health in Kabul (Taliban), with the Italian delegation to the UN in Geneva.
They protested at the opening of a hospital, because they thought they had an exclusive right, they really did think that! The right to decide when a hospital is needed and when it isn’t. Whether its existence is good or bad

On that occasion, and that was the last, Alberto Cairo visited the headquarters of Emergency in Milan.
He came to explain that «that hospital for war victims wasn’t useful». that the needs were «covered by them», that is by the ICRC.

He meant something very different but he couldn’t say it.
He would have said that the International Committee of the Red Cross had received in the past and continued to receive a massive quantity of millions of dollars a year – especially from various governments to look after those injured in war in Afghanistan. He wanted to say that anyone who opened a new Centre - perhaps a clean, efficient, top-level hospital, could cast a shadow (and diminish the number of dollars and yen) on the mythical ICRC and «its hospital». in Kabul, the Karteh-Seh, that I know well.

I visited it in April 2000: a sort of rubbish heap where the women patients were closed in a prison under lock and key and a guard in front, to prevent visits from anyone including doctors. Locked in and guarded (not watched, naturally) by the Taliban, in a hospital supported by the Red Cross. In this way their needs were «covered». By them.

Emergency has opened a Centre in Kabul (that followed the opening of one in Anabah and was before one opened in Lashkargah), because there was the need. In 2001, the Taliban era.

That «useless» hospital is officially recognised by the Afghan Ministry of Health as the national Centre of Excellence for war surgery and traumatology. Among other things, the Centre has the only Resuscitation unit in the whole country and the only free computerised tomography machine for the people. There’s a high standard of treatment and of passion for work. For these reasons and also for the hygiene and in a certain way its “beauty”, this hospital is considered by all to be the best in Afghanistan.

Obviously not by Alberto Cairo, who without ever having visited it can anyway declare that «there are at least 15 other hospitals like that». I only wish that were really true.
I’d like to put forward an idea, to journalists of il Corriere and of other publications. Go and have a look at the hospitals indicated by Alberto Cairo, and write about them, perhaps even imagining what it would be like to be a patient there.

Then, if you want, come by and visit the «Kabul Surgical Centre for victims of war». Here they call it the «Emergency Hospital». Any citizen of Kabul would be able to point it out to you. There’s no need for appointments or prior arrangements. We don’t need to do any touching up with fresh paint.

Orthopaedic hospitals? Not even the shadow! Laboratories for the production of prostheses yes. But how is that related to hospitals? If a physiotherapist (with all the affection for the profession) becomes a “medical doctor”, a centre for prostheses then becomes an orthopaedic hospital? It’s not just finance that is “creative”!
Oh I was forgetting. Each year, from the ICRC’s Kabul «orthopaedic hospital» numerous patients who are victims of war “with the war finished” , have been sent to the Emergency Hospital because they need orthopaedic attention. Are these our imaginary injured people, or are your hospitals phantasms?

The top person in the International Red Cross in Afghanistan, Reto Stocker, came

He explained that «it has been a big fuck-up», a vulgar expression that perhaps is equivalent to «una gran stronzata». Dr Cairo told us that he was at dinner with friends in Italy, and among the dinner guests was Camilla Baresani, the author of the article. Chatting after dinner, when we know, the tongue is more free, he talked about Karzai and Scelli, about drugs and NGOs and those comments about Emergency just popped out. He also explained, with much regret, that he also said other really generous things about our work but that the naughty and one-sided journalist “cut” then from the interview and thus altered its focus. What a shame!

The Head of the Delegation declared that this affair had been a grave error by Alberto Cairo, and that ICRC had even protested to the journalist for having distorted the arguments of their employee.

«I have come to give you an official apology from the ICRC and to assure Emergency that such a thing will not be repeated.» Those are the words of Reto Stocker in the presence of witnesses. But the calumnies and the damage is public. Why don’t they write to Il Corriere, asking for a correction? We have officially asked for that. Cairo said «I’m not prepared to do that»
First he throws mud at Emergency in hundreds of millions of copies, but his words were misunderstood, this even happens to Presidents of the Council! Then he refuses to write a letter to the newspaper to say how things really are.
I’m late for dinner. Good bye until the next time.”
Gino Strada.

Posted by Beppe Grillo at 01:55 AM in | Comments (0)
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