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Life as a Surgeon in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains: Atavist Feature

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Life as a Surgeon in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains: Atavist Feature

Posted by Enough Team on October 26, 2015

Editor’s Note: This blog post was written by Enough Project Intern Amanda Schmitt. In a captivating feature, for Atavist magazine, award-winning journalist James Verini highlighted the work of Dr. Tom Catena, a surgeon at Mother of Mercy Hospital located in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains.

Dr. Tom Catena is the only surgeon working in the Nuba Mountains, a rugged expanse of land covering 3,000 miles in southern Sudan. Catena, a devout Catholic better known as “Dr. Tom,” operates out of Mother of Mercy Hospital. Opened by the Catholic Church in 2008, Mother of Mercy is the last functional hospital in the Nuba Mountains.

Although Catena is the only surgeon in the Nuba Mountains, it is not for lack of demand, as this area has been a war zone for much of the last quarter century. Sudan President Omar al-Bashir has ordered consistent and methodical attacks against the Nuba people for their support of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Under Bashir’s direction, government forces have assassinated Nuba leaders, raided homes, destroyed agriculture, and committed mass rape in a manner suggesting crimes against humanity.

Recently, the Sudanese Armed Forces shifted its primary tactic to aerial raids after the creation of a Nuban army. This tactic resulted in a devastating bombing campaign and included the use of cluster bombs. Nuba Reports has chronicled much of this violence, and estimates that the Sudanese military has dropped nearly 4,000 bombs since 2011. Civilians have borne the great majority of this violence and Catena’s trauma case ledger lists over 1,700 cases from this period.

Although now considered a tireless and invaluable resource—Catena typically works 12 to 14 hour days six or even seven days a week—it took time for Catena to demonstrate his trustworthiness to the local community. He has since worked to ensure that the hospital remains functional and sustainable by training Nubans to join his staff.

While Mother of Mercy offers a glimmer of hope in an unforgiving environment, patients trying to reach Catena often first need to complete an arduous journey that can last days or even weeks. Likewise, the remote location of the hospital requires that all medical supplies arrive by truck after first being flown to the Yida refugee camp across the border in South Sudan. Catena rarely leaves the hospital, both because of its challenging location and because of his fear of an aerial attack and the need to treat patients during his absence. Many other humanitarian groups have left the Nuba Mountains since the conflict reignited in 2011. Catena himself has received orders to evacuate, which he refused even when threatened with termination.

Click here to read the feature on Atavist Magazine.