Medical devices for Ukraine

Convoys with medical supplies are traveling from Geneva to Kiev. Behind this operation is a humanitarian organisation of Swiss physicians, whose chairman is himself of Ukrainian origin.

Interview with Dr. Naiken Surennaidoo

Article translated from the original French version. The interview was conducted by Benoît Blanquart

esanum: Dr. Surennaidoo, why do you organise these convoys of medical supplies to Ukraine?

I was born in Donetsk, in the Donbass region in south-eastern Ukraine. There, my father, who came from Mauritius, met my mother who in turn came from Sri Lanka. At that time, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, which had an active policy of supporting and welcoming people from Third World countries.

My wife is ethnic Russian. I met her there in Donetsk and our first child was born there. I studied medicine in Ukraine, studies I later had to restart when we moved to Switzerland because my degree was not recognised.

In 2018, together with other physicians, we founded the Humanitarian For Empowerment (HFE) Foundation, of which I am currently the president. It is an independent humanitarian organisation that promotes the strengthening (empowerment) of health systems. This is done through the supply of equipment, but also through training. In the past, we had brought equipment to Ukraine to develop minimally invasive surgery.

This time we are organising convoys with medical equipment, but will not be there ourselves. HFE is apolitical and has no intention of intervening in countries where there is war.

esanum: How will these convoys be carried out?

In our previous project in Ukraine, we already had contact with the authorities. Mrs. Filipenko, the Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, therefore approached us last week. I immediately started collecting medical material, but this was initially a personal initiative.

Later, I got the approval of the HFE Executive Committee, so now I can contact the medical directors of the hospitals on behalf of the foundation. It is very important to reassure donors because the geopolitical situation is complex. We are not taking sides. Incidentally, we have demanded that the Ukrainian authorities strictly comply with the Geneva Convention, in particular Article 30 on the treatment of prisoners of war. The material we are sending is intended to treat everyone, civilians and soldiers, regardless of which side they are on.

In concrete terms, this means that the Ukrainian authorities send me a list of materials prepared by the Ministry of Health. It is constantly updated depending on which supplies arrive from other countries. These are essential supplies such as compresses and antibiotics, but also material for the technical departments, for traumatology and war surgery.

Currently, all convoys are being directed to Kiev. HFE, for its part, has three of them on the way. It would be ideal if other areas that are more severely affected could be reached directly. A physician from Mariupol in the south-east of the country told me of his concern about the lack of material.

We are also trying to bring equipment to Odessa from Germany. These are local initiatives: German physicians collect material and we put them in touch with people who can transport it. For example, a Ukrainian physician came to Germany to bring his family to safety and drove back with equipment. Sometimes we find a driver, sometimes not. From Switzerland, it's much easier, thanks to our network and our relations with the authorities.

For further information and contact:
Humanitarian For Empowerment