UNIFIL IN LEBANON
THE UN CAN SAVE A COUNTRY BY ITS MERE PRESENCE
“The United Nations’ medical support mission is to secure the health
well-being of members of United Nations peacekeeping operations through
planning, co-ordination, execution, monitoring and professional supervision
of excellent medical care in the field.”
UN mission statement manual
EVELINA RIOUKHINA, UNECE
On 24 November 2008, the new UNIFIL Hospital
in Naqoura, Lebanon, was inaugurated
by the Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Graziano,
and the Director of Mission Support, Girish
Sinha. This spacious new facility, equipped
with advanced diagnostic tools, provides an
opportunity for the medical specialists to render
efficient medical care to the peacekeepers
in the mission as well as to the local community
as part of humanitarian assistance.
This is an achievement of the mission and may be seen as a symbol of excellent integrated military and civilian coordination with medical experts from both backgrounds exerting joint efforts in serving the peacekeepers under the leadership of the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Koka Hara P. Rao.
I met with Dr. Koka Rao during his recent visit to Geneva. Knowing that UN Special will prepare a special issue on the “staff in the field” I used this opportunity to ask him about his work in field missions, and this particular assignment in Lebanon.
What are the core responsibilities of
the medical section?
UNIFIL is comprised of 13,000 peacekeepers and 1,000 civilian administrative support staff. The medical support is managed by seventyone medical officers and ancillary medical staff. The medical section is responsible to provide standard medical care to the entire peacekeeping mission staff. The UNIFIL medical setup provides out-patient services inpatient care, emergency services including surgery to the clientele.
In addition, it provides medevac/casevac (medical/casualty evacuation) in emergency situations by air or road. And it has fully functional health and hygiene department which deals with hygiene and sanitation inspections, water analysis and waste management. Also promotes health awareness. As part of its mission mandate, UNIFIL medical services also reach out to the Lebanese community in the form of medical camps and MCH (Mother and Child Health) care and provide daily outpatient and emergency services.
What other missions did you serve?
I have been serving in the peacekeeping operations for the past ten years in various missions: East Timor, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Liberia and now Lebanon.
Is the work in the field different from
the work in headquarters (such as
New York or Geneva)? Why is it different?
Yes, it is different because it requires coordination of services being provided by experts of different nationalities to the equally diverse clientele. Mission assignments, especially peacekeeping, can be extremely demanding and sometimes a daunting experience The situation in the field poses many emergencies and life threatening and difficult conditions which have to be dealt on an emergency basis. In many of the missions due to prevalent war like conditions the work of medical support becomes even more challenging.
Work in the field demands serving different groups of people and sometimes even warlords in judicial custody, deadly VHF diseases prevail in some mission areas, and containing the mortality rate from these diseases can be a true challenge. Sensitive security situations are also part of field life: at times, medical support has to be provided under gunfire, facing militants or in areas of civil unrest. Add to all this the fact that proper infrastructure and transport facilities are often not available, and it becomes easy to understand why providing medical support in the field can become very challenging.
In this context, I would like to “cite” the UN OCHA Civil Military Coordination Training, an excellent programme focused in particular on Civil Military combined activities that has greatly helped me to enhance the joint civil military coordination and function.
Elaborate your main tasks
As the Chief Medical Officer, I am also responsible for executing medico-administrative tasks as per the UN mandate and guidelines laid down by DPKO/MSS/MSD. It is also part of my responsibilities to advise and ensure that the medical professionals from the different national contingents apply and follow medical support related UN policies and guidelines.
It is needless to say that to fulfill the above requirement of the mission the medical section is operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What are your beliefs? Do you believe
in what you are doing, in the importance
of your work being in the field,
how do you feel being in the field?
Indeed it is a privilege to be able to contribute my services along with determined, devoted and courageous men and women in uniform and civilian colleagues for the alleviation of the suffering of those in need of medical care. I must say that it is an honor to be in a position where in I am able to uphold the highly honorable traditions of the medical services in the pursuance of these lofty ideals. I have persevered with great dedication in the fulfillment of the mission mandate.
How do you see the role of the United
Nations in the field?
The presence of the United Nations in a country gives courage, confidence and security to the population by ensuring the peace and security. The United Nations is the only organization that can save a country by its mere presence.
Thank you for this interview and I wish you all success in your difficult and demanding work.
- 1978-1980: The Hospital was initially established as a field hospital, managed by the Norwegian Medical Company, headed by the Force Medical Officer. It was a level-2 hospital with staff strength of 80.
- 1980-1992: The Swedish Medical Company took over and manned the hospital until 1992.
- 1992: The MSS (Medical Support Services) team re-evaluated the hospital and recommended the current status of level-1+ that came to effect in 2001. The ‘+’ denotes surgical capability to save life and limb in the event of an mergency in which UNIFIL is unable to move any casualty or the critically ill to a higher level of medical care.
- 1992-2005: The Polish Medical Company took over the hospital from the Swedish at strength of 68 personnel.
- 2003: A civilian Chief Medical Officer was appointed as head of the Medical Section to support and manage the hospital.
- 2005-2008: The Indian Medical Company took over from the Polish at personnel strength of 21 persons (5 doctors, 6 nurses and 10 support staff.
- Day to day consultations for walk-in patients (Routine and Emergency)
- Surgeries - Minor and Major
- Stabilization of critically ill patients
- Specialist Consultations - Gynecology and Dentistry
- MEDEVAC / CASEVAC [by air and road]
- First Aid training to UNIFIL personnel
- Humanitarian Services and support to local community in coordination with CIMIC
- Specialist Medical Camps in AOR
- Reproductive & Child Health Care Project in Al-Mansoori village for the local population.
- Participation in the UNCT (Contingency plan) Crisis Management Team (CMT) for the Avian Influenza Pandemic Preparedness
- Hygiene evaluation of all contingents
- Mass Casualty Response Team
- Medical examination & clearance for all UN personnel in Lebanon – including agencies
- Medical Support to Observation Group in Lebanon (UNTSO)
- Regular Medical Advisories on Health related issues
- Water testing in the area of operation