Heart surgeon reluctant to leave Sudan for Oscars

Updated 23 February 2013
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Heart surgeon reluctant to leave Sudan for Oscars

Italian heart surgeon Gino Strada would really rather not be in Los Angeles for Sunday’s Academy Awards, where a documentary about the life-saving work he does in Sudan is up for an Oscar.
“I would prefer to be here and doing surgery,” said the head surgeon at the Salam Center in Khartoum, which bills itself as Africa’s only high-standard specialist facility offering free open-heart operations.
The hospital is featured in Kief Davidson and Cori Shepherd Stern’s “Open Heart,” one of five films nominated in the Documentary Short category.
The film tells of eight Rwandan children and teens who travel for life-saving surgery at Salam Center, which is run by the Italian non-governmental organization Emergency.
Strada said most patients are young, malnourished and suffering from rheumatic heart disease.
The condition of chronic damage to heart valves can occur after an acute episode of rheumatic fever, an inflammatory disease that may develop from strep throat.
It virtually disappeared from Europe after the early 1960s because children had access to antibiotics, he explained.
But in Africa, where many people have “never seen a nurse or a doctor in their life,” Strada said, rheumatic fever is endemic and leads to the continent’s most common form of heart disease, causing an estimated 300,000 deaths a year.
“That’s because surgery is not available,” said Strada, who appeared deep in thought.
“In Europe you know there is a lot of discussion among politicians: ‘We have to send troops here, send troops there because we have to stop this massacre’, blah blah blah blah.”
“And you have an ongoing massacre of 300,000 per year and no one even mentions it. This is a scandal.”
The Rwandans are among hundreds of patients from across Africa — even further afield from Afghanistan and Iraq — who have been treated for free at the six-year-old hospital, along with thousands of Sudanese.
“We have shown that establishing centers of top quality is feasible in Africa,” says the white-bearded Strada, 64.
Since he helped found Emergency in 1994 during the Rwandan genocide the organization has provided free surgical and medical care to victims of war, land mines and poverty around the world.
Salam Center grew out of a philosophy that proper health care is a basic human right, not a business, he said.
The modern, spotless hospital would not be out of place in a Western city. It contrasts with the unpaved roads and herds of goats in the surrounding village of Soba, in southern Khartoum.
On a large table in the hospital’s meeting room a sheet of white paper lists today’s patients: a 20-year-old Sudanese, a 13-year-old Ugandan and another Sudanese, aged 16.
Strada will work on the last patient himself, and she is the focus of his thoughts as he speaks to AFP between cigarettes and sips of espresso, his blue shirt untucked.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m just thinking about the operation I have to do afterwards. Big mess.”
Like the rest of Emergency’s work, the hospital is funded by donations.
In what Strada calls a unique arrangement, the Sudanese government also contributes. Despite the country’s economic crisis, authorities confirmed they will provide around $ 5 million (3.7 million euros) this year, covering 40 percent or more of the hospital’s costs, Strada says.
But the sharp devaluation of Sudan’s currency since 2011 forced the hospital to reduce the number of annual surgeries from 1,500 to 550 last year. The figure is starting to rise again now, Strada said.
“The nomination for the Academy Award, well, it’s maybe a good chance to get this center better known internationally and hopefully to get support,” he said, adding that the hospital had no role in planning the documentary.
The film crew was already following the Rwandan children before their acceptance for surgery at Salam Center, Strada said.
Now he is bracing himself for Hollywood and a few days of “PR activity, or whatever it’s called.”
But first, his teenage patient from South Darfur state is waiting. Rheumatic heart disease has damaged her aortic valve.
There is a smell of burning flesh as Strada and a second Italian surgeon cut into her chest to expose the beating heart.
Six other foreign and Sudanese medical staff quietly assist.
The surgeons’ bloodied gloves poke into the cavity, preparing to stop her heart, which will be replaced by a machine while they change the valve.
Just over two hours later they have finished, successfully.
In another part of the hospital Zaenab Mousa, 35, lies on a bed, recovering from the same type of surgery.

“I feel like I’m lucky that I came here,” the woman from rural Sudan says softly. “I hope the film will win.”


Saudi food app is perfect recipe for people in need

Updated 19 May 2018
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Saudi food app is perfect recipe for people in need

JEDDAH: A Saudi relationship manager has designed a mobile app that allows food to be delivered to people in need, including Syrian refugees living in camps in Lebanon and Turkey.
Western region manager Fahad bin Thabit, 34, described his YummCloud app as a “sharing economy” platform.
After working with app developers from India, Ukraine and the US, Thabit launched the platform in late April with help from the US digital agency Ingic.
YummCloud was featured in US company news, such as Cision PRWeb.
“The idea behind YummCloud was to provide home-cooked meals to the users in the most convenient way,” Cision PRWeb said.
“Developers were told to develop an open platform app that will let users buy, sell or send home-cooked meals around them. All a user has to do is to choose the food they would like to eat and get it delivered at their convenience.”
Thabit said that his brother, who lives in France, was the inadvertent inspiration behind the app.
“At that time I wanted to send him food and that was when I had the idea: Why can’t I send him local food?
“I could not find any of our local food there, and this was how the application came up. I said once I can do that, I can send food to anyone anywhere in the world — all I need to do is provide the supplier,” Thabit told Arab News.
Anyone can help communities in need via the application, he said.
Thabit said he was planning to help Syrian refugees in Turkey.
“We call these meals ‘humanitarian meals’ — all we need to do is reach them via a social network and get a supplier there. People who sympathize with the refugees — they could be 100 kilometers away or in different parts of the world — can pay online and buy meals for them.”
He said whole communities could take part in the “sharing economy.”
“For example, in Africa, there are areas that have people suffering from starvation, but there are other areas that have food supplies, so if you buy the supplies from those areas, they can import them to the starvation-stricken areas. This is what I call a sharing economy.”
The app’s international features are still under development, but are expected to launch in two years.
“We can create a market anywhere in the world. All we need to do is add a language, find a delivery company there, and if there isn’t one, people can deliver it themselves.
“We had 500 orders in the first 10 days of the launch in Saudi Arabia.”
Thabit said that transportation network company Careem was acting as a logistics partner.
“Careem have us covered everywhere — it is operating in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Egypt. Wherever Careem is present, we are there regarding delivery,” he said.
Thabit said he had agreements with delivery companies and charities in different parts of the world for YummCloud’s global transition.
The application is an efficient humanitarian platform.
“We provide a platform for everyone to help everyone,” he said.