By Dr. Zaher Sahloul, MedGlobal President
It is my honor to be the recipient of Promoting Enduring Peace’s 2020 Gandhi Peace Award, alongside the incredible Mayson Almisri of the Syria Civil Defence. This award recognizes contributions to enduring international peace through cooperative and nonviolent means, in the spirit of Gandhi. This year the award is focused on honoring the efforts of Syrian health workers and rescue workers in Syria, who have worked to save lives while experiencing systematic, targeted attacks.
Since the beginning of the conflict, there have been at least 923 medical professionals killed in Syria, over 90% by the Syrian government and allies. The illegal targeting of health workers and the worsening humanitarian crisis has forced 70% of the health workforce to flee the country. The few medical workers that remain in Syria are responsible for treating entire communities – in northwest Syria, there is only an average of only .14 doctors per 1,000 people, compared to the global average of 1.5 per 1,000 people.
I dedicate this award to the more than 923 medical professionals who have been killed in Syria, who were killed for doing their job: treating patients and serving their communities under the principle of medical neutrality. Many of them were friends and colleagues. I think often of Dr. Hasan Al-Araj, Dr. Majid Bari, Dr. Wasim Moaz, and many others.
The Gandhi Peace Award has been given this year to recognize the extraordinary work of health workers and rescue workers in Syria. They are just a few of those who exemplify this with their lives and their legacies.
Dr. Hasan al-Araj
Dr. Hasan Al-Araj was a compassionate and exemplary physician who dedicated his life to serving his community. Before the start of the conflict in Syria, Dr. Hasan worked as a cardiologist in Hama governorate where he ran the Kafr Zita Speciality Hospital. When protests began in Syria in 2011, Dr. Hasan treated protestors and others injured during violent crackdowns. After experiencing systematic barrel bombs and airstrikes against hospitals, Dr. Hasan realized that his colleagues and patients needed another layer of protection. Dr. Hasan said, “The thing I would ask for right now is that the world acts in order to protect patients, like with underground hospitals. We need protection.” Dr. Hasan co-founded the Central Cave Hospital, an innovative hospital built into the side of a mountain, fully underground, to provide free treatment to the community while protecting those inside the hospital from attacks. Because of his dedication and innovation, a system of underground hospitals in Syria was built, saving countless lives.
Dr. Hasan was a friend and inspiration to all of those who knew him. He was the co-founder of the Hama Health Directorate, he helped to document chemical weapons attacks that his hospital responded to, and as the last cardiologist in Hama, he was always a caring doctor dedicated to serving his community. On April 13, 2016, Dr. Hasan departed the Central Cave, and within 100 meters of the cave, his ambulance was targeted with a heat-seeking missile from a Russian warplane. He was killed by this targeted attack. Dr. Hasan will always be remembered.
Dr. Majid Bari
Dr. Mohammad Majid Bari was a physician with a humanitarian organization called Saving Lives. He had graduated with honors from Aleppo University Medical School. Dr. Majid’s colleagues and friends remember him as kind, compassionate, and talented. On October 15, 2014, Dr. Majid was transporting patients in an ambulance in Aleppo when a heat-seeking missile targeted and struck the vehicle. He was killed along with 3 other civilians. After his death, I wrote this poem in his memory.
Dr. Wasim Moaz
Dr. Mohammad Wasim Moaz was considered one of the best pediatricians in Aleppo. In 2016, as the attacks and siege on Aleppo city reached their peak, he was one of the last remaining pediatricians in the city. Dr. Wasim worked at the Children’s Hospital during the day and at night he attended to emergencies at Al-Quds Hospital. He was considered a brother to all of those who worked in these hospitals. As a pediatrician, he saved the lives of countless children in East Aleppo throughout the conflict. He stayed in Aleppo, even while the deadly violence escalated and siege tightened, to continue to serve his patients. On April 27, 2016, an airstrike on Al-Quds Hospital decimated the facility and killed Dr. Wasim, a dentist, 3 nurses, and 22 civilians. Following his death, a group of 7 doctors still inside Aleppo, his colleagues and friends, put out a letter commemorating Dr. Wasim, saying: “We will always remember Dr Maaz as the kindest and bravest of souls, whose devotion to treating the youngest victims of this war was unparalleled.”