ROME – Gino Strada, an Italian surgeon who co-founded the humanitarian group Emergency to provide medical care for civilian victims of war and poverty in many countries, and was a fierce critic of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, has died. He was 73.
His daughter, Cecilia Strada, tweeted: “Friends, my dad #GinoStrada is no more.’’ Emergency announced Friday that “Our beloved Gino died this morning. He was founder, surgeon, executive director, the soul of Emergency.”
Neither cited a cause of death, but the website of Corriere della Sera newspaper said Strada had been suffering from heart problems for years, and died in France.
Prominent among Emergency’s medical missions in 19 countries was Afghanistan.
Exactly on the day of his death, Italian newspaper La Stampa had published an article by Strada in light of the Taliban’s rapid military takeover of key cities in the country in the last few days.
Strada wrote that the blitz “shouldn’t surprise anyone who has a discrete knowledge of Afghanistan or at least a good memory.”
“It seems to be that both are lacking – or, better — both were always lacking,” Strada wrote in the La Stampa opinion piece. “The war against Afghanistan has been – no more, no less – a war of aggression, launched after the Sept. 11 attack, by the United States, to which all the Western countries tagged along.”
Strada wrote that in his seven years in Afghanistan, “I saw the number of wounded and the violence increase, while the country became progressively devoured by insecurity and corruption."
Referring to his anti-war stance, Strada wrote: “We were saying 20 years ago that this war would be a disaster for everybody. Today the outcome of that aggression is before our eyes: a failure from every point of view.”
Born in the Milan suburb of Sesto San Giovanni on April 21, 1948, Strada earned his medical and surgical degree at that city’s State University and specialized in emergency room surgery. He transferred to the United States where for four years he worked on heart and heart-lung surgery at the medical centers of Stanford and Pittsburgh universities, Emergency said. He also trained at Groote Schuur Hospital in Capetown, South Africa.
He decided to put his skills to use helping civilians wounded in war. Starting in 1988, he worked with the International Red Cross in Pakistan, Ethiopia, Thailand, Afghanistan, Peru, Djibouti, Somalia and Bosnia.
In 1994, together with his wife, Teresa Sarti, and some friends and colleagues, he founded Emergency. The organization began its first mission in Rwanda, ravaged by genocidal war, and went on to establish projects in 18 other countries. Among them was Cambodia, where Strada remained for several years.
His daughter, Cecilia, is currently managing communications with the charity ResQ People Saving People, which operates a migrant rescue boat in the Mediterranean Sea. Helping people and saving lives “is what he and my mama taught me,’’ she tweeted after announcing her father’s death.
In a message of condolence, Italian President Sergio Mattarella said Strada led his life in “line with our Constitution, which repudiates war.” He was referring to Italy's Constitution written and adopted after the country's devastation in World War II.
The surgeon, Mattarella said, invoked "humanity where conflict was cancelling out all respect for persons.”
Italy pulled out its troops from Afghanistan in June, following the announcement by Washington that the U.S. military mission was ending there this year.