Last week Dr. Tom Catena, the only surgeon for approximately 1,3 million people in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan, Sudan announced the opening of a medical training school in the rebel-held territory next year.

“There has been a tremendous upgrade in medical capacity over these past 13 years but despite these efforts, there remains a huge deficit in medical personnel in Nuba. We now believe that the only way to address that huge shortfall is to open a training school here, and train our own, nurses, midwives and clinical officers,” said Dr. Catena during a virtual World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), a global healthcare community dedicated to capturing and disseminating the best evidence-based ideas and practices.

“We are now in the early planning stages of this school, and hope to have it up and running within the next year.”

Dr. Tom Catena. Source: Sudan Relief Fund

The medical school will be attached to the Gidel Mother of Mercy Hospital, which he helped establish and opened in 2008 and remains the only major provider of medical care in the Nuba mountains region. The hospital has been relying on heroic on-the-job trained staff but now wants to have fully trained professionals.

‘Dr. Tom’ as he is affectionately known, has served in Africa for more than 20 years and works and lives in rebel-held territory, around the size of Austria, which has known civil war, starvation, and genocide ever since the founding of the Sudan republic in 1956.

Funds to run the Gidel Mother of Mercy Hospital mostly come from individual donors, well-wishers, except for donations of food, vaccines, and TB drugs but they don’t receive anything from the International donor community which has made them rather frugal in their operating expenses.

It will require about $800,000 to run the 435-bed hospital and the training school for a year and they would provide most of the basic services and low cost. By way of comparison, a similar-sized hospital in Dr. Catena’s home area in the USA would have an annual operating budget of 400 times this amount of money annually which if availed to the Gidel Mother of Mercy Hospital and training school would be sufficient for the next 400 years.

Mother of Mercy Hospital in Gidel, Sudan. Source: Sudan Relief Fund

“Good health care, education, do not need to be prohibitively expensive. We feel that we can provide a good number of services at a very low cost …. perhaps, the problem isn’t lack of money, but just a gross maldistribution of resources,” said Dr. Catena.

Although life in Nuba has improved due to a cessation of hostilities however the Nuba are people deeply traumatized due to centuries of oppression and marginalization at the hand of cards emulate.

The training it is believed will uplift the respect of the Nuba people who have proven themselves as tough warriors over the years but have been humiliated, degraded, and grown accustomed to being treated as second class citizens in their own country with little hope that they will be treated as the equals be the Northerners.

“We encourage our staff, that as a way to get respect, will be by using their intellect and skill to show their detractors that they are the equal of anyone,” said Dr. Catena. “It is our sincere hope that our initiatives to train our staff will put them on an equal footing with health practitioners anywhere in the world.”

The hospital is already receiving patients from as far as Khartoum.

“We hope that with our clinical school will become a training center for all of Sudan, both students and patients will come to us seeking care. It is much more difficult to despise someone if he or she is the one performing your surgery or diagnosing your complex medical problems,” he said.

“It is our dream that one of the dividends of a first-grade hospital and training program will be peace in our troubled region,” concluded Dr. Catena at the WISH conference. WISH is an initiative of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF) and is under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, its Chairperson.

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