Missionary who serves as only doctor in troubled Sudan region wins accolade

Updated: 
2017 Aurora Prize Ceremony

A life-saving surgeon honoured for treating casualties under fire in Sudan has urged the international community to help solve a dispute blocking humanitarian relief.

Dr Tom Catena, a Catholic missionary aged 53 from New York, lifted the Aurora Prize For Awakening Humanity at an awards ceremony in Armenia.

It followed a decade performing more than 1,000 operations a year using dated or missing medical equipment at the Mother Of Mercy Catholic Hospital while civil war bombs rained down.

The Sudanese Government is embroiled in a disagreement with rebels over who delivers aid, the medic said.

Dr Catena warned global leaders: "We have to inject a bit of common sense."

He is the only permanent doctor in the Nuba Mountains, a rugged theatre for battle between the government in Khartoum led by President Omar Al Bashir and rebels from the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement.

Dr Catena said the state wants to control the passage of supplies.

Opponents believe medicine delivered by the regime will sterilise their women and want goods from foreign donors conveyed from neighbouring South Sudan instead, the surgeon added.

He said: "This is off the radar, nobody wants to spend time on it, nobody cares."

He received his prize during a spectacular ceremony full of folk songs, ballet and opera music in the Armenian capital Yerevan.

The medic sent to the remote region by the Catholic Medical Mission Board in 2007 has worked around the clock removing shrapnel, amputating limbs and delivering babies as bombs rained down.

He said: "There is significant pressure that the international community can apply to both parties, especially the Khartoum government."

The Sudanese Government insists all the money must flow through its official channels.

Dr Catena added: "The truth is that after so many years of being dismissed and oppressed the people of Nuba don't trust the government."

The Aurora prize for humanitarian work by outstanding but ordinary people was established by wealthy Armenian expatriates in memory of survivors of the pogrom and is named after a woman who fled and became a poster girl of the diaspora.

Among those who selected the winner were Hollywood actor George Clooney and former Irish president Mary Robinson.

Clooney said: "We all have a role in addressing these global challenges. We all have a responsibility, each of us individually.

"We have to be engaged."

The other finalists included a dentist aged 26 who operated on a Syrian war victim by sending WhatsApp photos to more experienced colleagues abroad.

Muhammad Darwish returned to his home town of Madaya after it was besieged by government forces and found himself one of only three medics left.

The other finalists included:

:: Fartuun Adan, who has championed the rehabilitation of Somalian child soldiers, often under insecure and dangerous conditions.

:: Jamila Afghani from Kabul trained over 6,000 imams in Afghanistan in women's rights.

:: Denis Mukwege is a doctor caring for survivors of sex abuse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where rape is said to be rife.

The awards show was laced with references to the First World War-era eight-year bloodbath in the mountainous Caucasian country inflicted by soldiers from a crumbling Ottoman Empire.

Armenians describe as genocide what they calculate as 1.5 million deaths from 1915, a term and tally vigorously disputed by modern-day Turkey, which in recent years has made overtures to patch up differences with its eastern neighbour.