Studio 365: Day 283

Day 283 i

Never Again II 10.10.15

Yesterday’s post came about after receiving an email from Stephen Cornish, Executive Director of MSF Canada asking for support for an independent investigation into the bombing of their trauma hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. To accompany today’s images I thought I would reproduce in full Dr. Joanne Liu’s statement that was released on October 6th, together with the testimony of MSF nurse Lajos Zoltan Jecs who describes his experience the night the hospital was bombed.

Day 283 iii

Never Again III 10.10.15

Dr. Joanne Liu is a Montreal physician who currently serves as the international president of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Here is her statement:

“For four years, the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)trauma centre in Kunduz was the only facility of its kind in northeastern Afghanistan, offering essential medical and surgical care. On Saturday, October 3, this came to an end when the hospital was deliberately bombed. Twelve MSF staff and 10 patients, including three children, were killed, and 37 people were injured, including 19 members of the MSF team. The attack was unacceptable.

The whole MSF movement is in shock, and our thoughts are with the families and friends of those affected. Nothing can excuse violence against patients, medical workers and health facilities. Under International Humanitarian Law hospitals in conflict zones are protected spaces. Until proven otherwise, the events of last Saturday amount to an inexcusable violation of this law. We are working on the presumption of a war crime.

In the last week, as fighting swept through the city, 400 patients were treated at the hospital. Since the facility’s opening in 2011, tens of thousands of wounded civilians and combatants from all sides of the conflict have been triaged and treated by MSF. On the night of the bombing, MSF staff working in the hospital heard what was later confirmed to be a US army plane circle around multiple times, releasing its bombs on the same building within the hospital compound at each pass. The building targeted was the one housing the intensive care unit, emergency rooms and physiotherapy ward. Surrounding buildings in the compound were left largely untouched.

Despite MSF alerting both the Afghan and Coalition military leadership, the airstrike continued for at least another 30 minutes. The hospital was well-known and the GPS coordinates had been regularly shared with Coalition and Afghan military and civilian officials, including as recently as Tuesday, September 29.

This attack cannot be brushed aside as a mere mistake or an inevitable consequence of war. Statements from the Afghanistan government have claimed that Taliban forces were using the hospital to fire on Coalition forces. These statements imply that Afghan and US forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital, which amounts to an admission of a war crime.

This attack does not just touch MSF but it affects humanitarian work everywhere, and fundamentally undermines the core principles of humanitarian action. We need answers, not just for us but for all medical and humanitarian staff assisting victims of conflict, anywhere in the world. The preserve of health facilities as neutral, protected spaces depends on the outcome of a transparent, independent investigation.”

Day 283 iv

Never Again IV 10.10.15

MSF nurse Lajos Zoltan Jecs was in Kunduz trauma hospital when the facility was struck by a series of aerial bombing raids in the early hours of Saturday morning. He describes his experience:

“It was absolutely terrifying.

“I was sleeping in our safe room in the hospital. At around 2am I was woken up by the sound of a big explosion nearby. At first I didn’t know what was going on. Over the past week we’d heard bombings and explosions before, but always further away. This one was different — close and loud.

“At first there was confusion, and dust settling. As we were trying to work out what was happening, there was more bombing. After 20 or 30 minutes, I heard someone calling my name. It was one of the Emergency Room nurses. He staggered in with massive trauma to his arm. He was covered in blood, with wounds all over his body.

“At that point my brain just couldn’t understand what was happening. For a second I was just stood still, shocked. He was calling for help. In the safe room, we have a limited supply of basic medical essentials, but there was no morphine to stop his pain. We did what we could.

‘There are no words for how terrible it was’

“I don’t know exactly how long, but it was maybe half an hour afterwards that they stopped bombing. I went out with the project coordinator to see what had happened. What we saw was the hospital destroyed, burning. I don’t know what I felt – just shock again. We went to look for survivors. A few had already made it to one of the safe rooms. One by one, people started appearing, wounded, including some of our colleagues and caretakers of patients.

“We tried to take a look into one of the burning buildings. I cannot describe what was inside. There are no words for how terrible it was. In the Intensive Care Unit six patients were burning in their beds. We looked for some staff that were supposed to be in the operating theatre. It was awful. A patient there on the operating table, dead, in the middle of the destruction. We couldn’t find our staff. Thankfully we later found that they had run out from the operating theatre and had found a safe place.

“Just nearby, we had a look in the inpatient department. Luckily untouched by the bombing. We quickly checked that everyone was OK. And in a safe bunker next door, also everyone inside was OK.

“And then back to the office. Full — patients, wounded, crying out, everywhere. It was crazy. We had to organize a mass casualty plan in the office, seeing which doctors were alive and available to help. We did an urgent surgery for one of our doctors. Unfortunately he died there on the office table. We did our best, but it wasn’t enough.

‘We saw our colleagues dying’

“The whole situation was very hard. We saw our colleagues dying. Our pharmacist — I was just talking to him last night and planning the stocks, and then he died there in our office.

“The first moments were just chaos. Enough staff had survived, so we could help all the wounded with treatable wounds. But there were too many that we couldn’t help. “Somehow, everything was very clear. We just treated the people that needed treatment, and didn’t make decisions — how could we make decisions in that sort of fear and chaos? Some of my colleagues were in too much shock, crying and crying. I tried to encourage some of the staff to help, to give them something to concentrate on, to take their minds off the horror. But some were just too shocked to do anything. Seeing adult men, your friends, crying uncontrollably — that is not easy.

“I have been working here since May, and I have seen a lot of heavy medical situations. But it is a totally different story when they are your colleagues, your friends. These are people who had been working hard for months, non-stop for the past week. They had not gone home, they had not seen their families, they had just been working in the hospital to help people … and now they are dead. These people are friends, close friends. I have no words to express this. It is unspeakable.

“The hospital, it has been my workplace and home for several months. Yes, it is just a building. But it is so much more than that. It is healthcare for Kunduz. Now it is gone.

“What is in my heart since this morning is that this is completely unacceptable. How can this happen? What is the benefit of this? Destroying a hospital and so many lives, for nothing. I cannot find words for this.”

Day 282

Never Again.

5 comments

  1. A picture paints a thousand words but in this case the words paint a picture that it so frightful, so totally unacceptable that I am rendered speechless. I am sharing this piece on FaceBook where I have infinitely more ‘followers’ than on my little blog. Thank you for pricking my conscience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for sharing this on Facebook to your “followers” Osyth. It needs to be read by as many people as possible – breaks your heart to read but hopefully we will never have to read something similar again.

      Liked by 1 person

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