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In Mali, meet the military doctors on the front line of peacekeeping

The United Nations Peace Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) is one of the most dangerous places in the world for Blue Helmets. Since its deployment in 2013, more than 250 MINUSMA peacekeepers have lost their lives there. They have been deliberately targeted by armed terrorist groups, and faced the threats posed by landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

In the regions where it is deployed, MINUSMA has set up military hospitals providing lifesaving medical assistance to injured peacekeepers. The Mopti hospital run by the military doctors of the Pakistani contingent in MINUSMA is a case in point. Staffed with 75 medical personnel, including 10 women and 65 men, the hospital operates 24 hours a day, every day, and they are always on alert. With state-of-the-art equipment, all specialties are covered, from pharmacy to gynaecology. However, its main purpose is to perform life-saving and urgent surgery when peacekeepers are injured.

From 2018 to date, in the Center region alone where Mopti lies, 19 of them have been victims of IED explosions or mines.

“A military doctor is an oxymoron…. A soldier who fights and a doctor who saves lives are two different things and we are both,” says Commander Farah Javed Farooqui, general practitioner at Mopti hospital. “Our job is to find a balance between the two [roles].”

At the hospital or at the scene of an incident, for example, Pakistani military doctors ensure the safety and security of patients, as well as their own, and provide treatment.

“We provide medical and surgical care to patients without bias, and we do not only provide it in this hospital but also at the scene of an incident,” explains Commanding Officer Saira Mehboob, who works as an anesthesiologist.

“In the event of an improvised explosive device detonation or any other kind of gunshot wound in the field, we have medical personnel integrated into the unit, who quickly move to the location.”

While these “embedded” doctors provide first-aid to the injured, another team of medical professionals get deployed from the hospital to the site of the incident to help save as many lives as possible and treat the injured. They also evacuate the injured to the hospital for further treatment and surgery.

Medical care and medical personnel constitute a very important logistical support for the MINUSMA Military Force. The team is not only in charge of medical care and evacuation of injured Blue Helmets, but also assist civilians and members of the Malian Defense and Security Forces who suffer attacks.

From 2021 to 2022, 195 members of the Malian force and 26 civilians have been evacuated at the request of the Malian military authorities.

In an extremely volatile security environment, the Pakistani medical team is resolute in its commitment to peace. “I am proud to be a military doctor,” says Lieutenant-Colonel Ambreen Ahsan, gynaecologist and gender focal point with MINUSMA. “It is an honour and a privilege for us to participate in the promotion of peace in a country where peacekeepers are exposed to such dangers. I would like to congratulate [our peacekeepers] for all they do to help people.”

Pakistan is one of the longest-serving and largest contributors of troops and police to UN peacekeeping operations, with more than 6000 soldiers representing almost 9 per cent of the total current UN peacekeeping deployments over the world. The country has 218 nationals in Mali. Islamabad’s contribution to peacekeeping in Mali is critical for live saving in the Center region where the blue helmets face an increase of attacks by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Since 1960, Pakistan lost 169 peacekeepers in the line of duty for the cause of international peace and security.

The safety and security of peacekeepers is a key area of the Action for the Peacekeeping agenda and it’s implementation strategy A4P+. Continually improving the medical, technical and logistical support to peacekeeping operations is at the heart of the strategies, along with exerting efforts to bring the perpetrators of crimes against Blue Helmets to justice. The 2021 Peacekeeping ministerial in Seoul was an occasion for Member States to renew their support and commitment to peace operations and Pakistan contributed with a Level 2 hospital and Explosive Ordnance Disposal training among others.