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Doctors Without Borders immerses visitors into war-torn world

Dylan Amirio

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, May 18, 2018  /  08:24 am
Doctors Without Borders immerses visitors into war-torn world

War-torn world: A wing of Grand Indonesia Mall’s fifth floor exhibition hall is dedicated to the 2015 bombing of a Médecins Sans Frontières-run hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, by United States forces, which resulted in 42 deaths. (JP/Dylan Amirio)

International humanitarian NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, is holding a public photography exhibition, which aims to highlight the efforts of its medical personnel in tending to the casualties of war around the world. 

The exhibition, titled “Medicines Not Bombs”, showcases photographs from MSF’s primary operational zones. The exhibition hall has been turned into emergency rooms to give visitors an immersive experience.

Prop beds, stretchers and medicine cabinets have been installed and the walls are adorned with photographs taken in hospitals, refugee camps or the streets of affected countries such as Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Sudan.

One wing of the exhibition, held on Grand Indonesia Mall’s fifth floor exhibition hall until Sunday, is dedicated solely to the 2015 bombing of an MSF-run hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, by United State forces, which resulted in 42 deaths. 

Photographs from the aftermath of the air strike adorn this section, which in itself is designed to look like a bombed out emergency room, with girders and soot-covered walls. 

The air strike, which the US has since apologized for, was severely condemned by MSF as it directly violated international law, specifically UN Security Council Resolution 2286 that is supposed to protect medical personnel in conflict zones. 

One of the points made by the exhibition is to also show that the resolution seems to only be “valid on paper” as aid workers and medical personnel continue to become casualties of war. MSF claims that it has recorded 103 attacks on MSF-related personnel or facilities last year, 36 of which involved firearms. 

“Attacks on hospitals disrupt the capacity to treat patients and it is part of a broader assault on civilians in conflict,” said MSF Indonesia country director Daniel von Rege. 

“[This exhibition] invites visitors for an immersive experience into an MSF emergency room, presenting frontline realities to the Indonesian public, to humanize the issue, to understand the problem from a humanitarian perspective and to gain their support.” 

Aside from MSF’s overall perspective, the exhibition also welcomes several individuals from the frontlines to share their experiences. The guests include AFP war photographer Adek Barry and two Indonesian doctors currently working for MSF. 

One of these is Semarang-based doctor Damayanti Zahar, a specialist in fistula and in OB/GYN, who has been with MSF since 2005 and has since been stationed in various hot spots such as Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Angola and Nigeria.

While she has not been caught in any hospital attacks, Damayanti admits that she has not been too far from it while working in hospitals in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. “I’ve seen these events and I hear them. I have taken care of the casualties at the hospitals I work in,” she said at the exhibition. 

But the constant, lingering threat of danger in conflict zones for her is a line that, while frightening, is something that someone in the field must get used to if they want to carry out their job properly. 

Especially in a conflict zone, where living, economic and health conditions are not up to standard, the probability and danger of being wounded or witnessing people getting injured are just an unfortunate part of the everyday landscape. 

“You have to understand how things are in the field. People can die and you have to deal with that reality every time you treat the patient in front of your eyes,” Damayanti said. 

“It doesn’t work if you keep holding on to your sensitivities because in that environment, it’ll only prove to hold you back.”

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