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Agostino Paganini: Emergency operations

Agostino Paganini, UNICEF Team Leader for Health in Emergencies, has seen some textbook operations in his time. But his has not been a conventional medical career.

"There was no way to refer patients to more equipped centres," he recalls of his time in Uganda. "So sometimes the surgery manual was on a side table and an assistant would turn to the appropriate page while he was working away on the case."

Mr. Paganini graduated in medicine and surgery at the age of 26 and started work in the hospital of his home town, Varese in Italy. But before long he had to choose between serving in the army or going to a developing country as a volunteer. Pausing only to ask his girlfriend Margaret to marry him, Paganini set off for northern Uganda, where his work included operating on people who had been shot by Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin's soldiers, speared by cattle raiders or attacked by hippos, leopards or buffaloes. He spent the rest of the time touring the villages with his team to immunize children, treat tuberculosis and leprosy patients, visit pregnant women, carry out minor surgery and supervise health units.

'Our children found the shooting quite interesting'

During the war between Uganda and Tanzania, the Paganinis stayed with the local community and were protected by them. "Our children found the shooting quite interesting," Mr. Paganini says. "And as they were very proficient in the local language, Luo, they held serious discussions with their Acholi friends."

A highlight of Mr. Paganini's career during the 1980s was working in Senegal, where he was part of the UNICEF team that helped keep President Diouf's promise to raise immunization coverage to 75 per cent in a matter of months.

"For the first time in my life, I was part of a nationwide effort to protect all children from diseases," he says. "I consider myself lucky to have been part of this exceptional mobilization. Meanwhile, my five children added French and Wolof to their linguistic baggage."

In 1996, for the first time in his life, Mr. Paganini left his wife and children behind to take up a post as UNICEF Representative in Somalia. It was to be another memorable posting: "I still see in front of me a young Somali from Bardera, a town flooded by biblical rains, coming towards the UNICEF helicopter bringing the first relief supply and saying: 'Thank you for not forgetting us!'."

But then, Agostino Paganini has had more than a few memorable moments in his career.

Agostino Paganini: Emergency operations



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