Dr. Bill Frist, the former U.S. Senate majority leader, is an accomplished heart and lung transplant surgeon who trained at Stanford University and was among those who pioneered heart transplants. A Tennessean, Dr. Frist opened the first transplant center in the South at Vanderbilt University. In 1994 he left medicine and was elected to the U.S. Senate. He promised to serve only two terms, so at the end of last year, after 12 years, Dr. Frist retired.
During the four years that he was majority leader, Dr. Frist continued his practice of going to Africa on medical missions, and he began to see that the power of healing can go a long way to improving America's reputation in the world and, more importantly, providing peace and stability in the region.
Dr. Frist is back in Africa, traveling with his wife, Karyn, and Franklin Graham, the president of Samaritan's Purse, and is blogging for FOXNews.com.
Day 2 Darfur: Humanitarian Situation on Brink of Crisis
The most significant new and somewhat unexpected thing we learned on this trip to Darfur was that the humanitarian situation remains on the brink of crisis.
Click here to view photos from Darfur's Otash Camp for displaced persons.
The position of the nongovernmental organization, or NGO, workers in Darfur is becoming untenable. The fundamental change is the targeting of humanitarian workers with violence.
Two examples: In Nyala, South Darfur, last month five U.N. staff members were badly beaten by police, and one female staff member was sexually assaulted. According to the U.N. report, this indicated "that those allocated to protect humanitarian workers, the government, were unable or unwilling to do so.”
On Dec. 18 in Gereida, South Darfur, targeted attacks were directed against six humanitarian compounds. All staff members were forced to withdraw and one was sexually assaulted. This withdrawal compromised the delivery of aid to over 130,000 displaced persons.
We were told that morale against humanitarian workers is at an all-time low. Humanitarian workers are becoming the objects of attacks, both from the rebel factions and the government.
Unless things improve and the government becomes pro-active in supporting the humanitarian operations, NGOs will have no choice but to withdraw. The humanitarian crisis would then rapidly escalate.
We discovered deterioration in access for humanitarian operations and increased Sudan government-imposed bureaucratic barriers to the operations.
Access is diminished because of continued violence (increase in vehicle theft and ambushes) against civilians; fragmentation of the rebel factions; and fluctuating control of territory. Access to humanitarian relief has deteriorated to a new low (the worst had been in April 2004), though numbers of potential beneficiaries have doubled over the past three years.
Worse access and increased numbers needing the care — that is a formula for destruction, if not reversed.
On Dec. 9, a commercial truck carrying relief supplies was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades; 30 civilians were massacred during the attack. One NGO left; another, the Norwegian Refugee Council from South Darfur, was expelled for unexplained reasons, leaving a deep void in South Darfur.
Click here to view more photos of Dr. Frist's mission to Africa: Essay 1 | Essay 2 | Essay 3.
Three current trends, we were told, must be addressed: The increase in violence against civilians by military operations; reduced access for humanitarian ops and increased bureaucratic barriers; and increased violence against humanitarian workers.
The level of humanitarian operations is massive. There are over 13,000 international and national staff members in Darfur! And we’ve seen real successes. Global malnutrition has been cut in half since the height in mid-2004 and mortality rates have fallen to well below emergency levels.
But these positive results are at risk with the recent increased violence against humanitarian workers. In December, 29 humanitarian vehicles were hijacked (82 since signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement).
In the last six months, 30 NGO and U.N. compounds were attacked by armed groups. More relief workers have been killed in the last six months than in the two previous years, and more than 400 humanitarian workers have been forced to relocate 31 times.
Staff has been seriously threatened and harassed and will begin to pull out if conditions don’t improve.
What can be done? Step No. 1 is to expose the new conditions there. We need more light shed on this problem. Step No. 2, we must engage donors around the world on these issues.
We must pressure the Sudanese government to stop denying there is a problem and aggressively ensure improved conditions of work for humanitarian workers.
Politically, we should encourage the Darfur-Darfur dialogue, with emphasis on a political, not military, solution. And we must see that the military attacks on civilians are stopped (thus, my direct conversation with the Wali and other government and military officials).
We need to use everything in our power to get all the rebel factions to sign the Darfur Peace Agreement.
Looking back to our action on the Senate floor, I am proud we voted to call the atrocities “genocide.” We were late in Rwanda. The U.N. was late in Rwanda. Some 200,000 have died in Darfur. No more should die. Let’s mobilize to end it.
Click here to watch video of Dr. Frist in Africa.