World Health Organization 2018

Dr. Jerry Brown, CEO, JFK Hospital prepares for the cleaning up campaign (WHO, 2018)

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Johnny Wood Writer, Formative Content

Dr Evan Atar Adaha offers a ray of hope to thousands of people whose lives have been devastated by conflict.

The makeshift hospital he runs in South Sudan is powered by a generator that works intermittently, its only X-ray machine is broken and it has an operating table illuminated by a single light. Despite these limited resources, Atar and his team provide medical services to more than 200,000 people, including 144,000 refugees from Sudan’s Blue Nile state.

Atar is the 2018 recipient of the Nansen Refugee Award, an honour presented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to recognize extraordinary service to people who have been forcibly displaced.

Conflict in South Sudan has created Africa’s worst refugee emergency, in terms of numbers affected, and the world’s third-biggest refugee crisis.

Saving lives

 Patients rest at the Maban Referral Hospital.

Image: UNHCR

After studying medicine in Khartoum, Sudan, Atar practised in Egypt, and in 1997, when Sudan was in the midst of civil war, he established his first hospital in Kurmuk in Blue Nile state.

Braving the risks of aerial bombing and mounting violence, Atar’s team continued to treat casualties of the conflict until 2011, when they were forced to flee across the border to the newly independent South Sudan.

The journey took a month and upon arriving in Bunj, in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state, Atar established his first surgical theatre in an abandoned health centre. Here, he worked long hours to generate funds and train young volunteers to work as nurses and midwives.

Dr Atar’s hospital

 Dr Evan Atar Adaha sits with a refugee and her malnourished son in the hospital’s nutrition stabilization centre.

Image: UNHCR

Known by his middle name – Atar – he spends most of the long workday on his feet and doesn’t have an office, despite being the senior and only surgeon at the 120-bed, two-theatre facility.

“We are here to save lives, not to sit,” he said in a UNHCR article, “There is no lazing around in theatre. We are all equal. We are all a team.”

As the only hospital in Upper Nile state, the facility in Bunj is open around the clock. With basic conditions and a lack of resources and equipment, Atar’s team somehow manage to perform 58 operations on average each week, saving countless lives.

The medical brain drain

Although Atar’s current doctor-to-patient ratio in South Sudan is an extreme case, other parts of Africa and the wider developing world are also facing serious shortages of medical professionals.

According to the World Bank and World Health Organization, more than half the global population do not receive the essential medical services they need, and 800 million people spend at least 10% of their household budget on health care.

The allure of high salaries and improved living standards has resulted in an exodus from low-income nations of medical professionals who are plugging skills gaps in the hospitals of wealthy countries.


To make matters worse, medical students from low- and middle-income nations who study in developed countries often choose to stay and work there rather than use their training in their home country. For instance, a United States Agency for International Aid (USAID) report shows over 50% of doctors from Kenya practise their profession overseas.

This is even the case even when overseas medical training is sponsored by the government of the student’s home nation. In Trinidad, doctors who train overseas are required to return home and work for a minimum of five years to earn their government scholarships.

To halt the exodus and address this imbalance, governments need to find ways to incentivize overseas-trained doctors, nurses and healthcare workers to return home and work in local communities.