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Winged Scalpel

8th November 2012

It is fitting that a consultant surgeon has proved himself able to cut through the jargon that abounds in the humanitarian aid world. In his book ‘Winged Scalpel’, Richard Villar slices through the ‘sector-speak’ and presents a pacy picture of emergency aid. His ‘boy’s own’ page-turning language and straight talking make for a great read.

Merlin’s health workers stay on after emergencies and we work to help ministries of health around the world set up or strengthen health systems. Somehow, in this laudable aim, our words have lost their urgency even though our efforts continue to save lives. Quite rightly, the aid industry has embraced greater governance, donor compliance and some of the better aspects of the business world; key performance indicators, return on investment and the like.

So, as Merlin turns 20 (we were founded in 1983), Richard’s book is a great reminder of why we started – to save lives in an emergency. In this case it was to meet the medical needs of people caught up in the atrocities in Bosnia. We do still respond to manmade disasters as well as headline-grabbing floods and earthquakes and when we do we need people who are ready, willing and able.

Gladly for Merlin, and for the people he treated and the emergency responses he led, Richard was all of these things.

His SAS background and clinical skills were a perfect combination. The ability not to be frightened by the presence of armed men stood him in good stead in Haiti and Libya where the rule of law did not exist, or at least not in the way we know it.

His military experience and no-nonsense approach enabled him to get field hospitals up and running with the most basic of supplies.

Winged Scalpel gives an insight – through a remarkable indvidual – into what it takes to save lives in an emergency.

It is not as simple as being flown in with a surgical kit. Far from it. Richard’s book shows the reader the many steps that are taken between donations landing in Merlin’s bank account and life-saving treatment being given.

In most cases, the time between the two is negligible. Or, in a significant disaster, we would get to work and worry about the money later.

The fact that Winged Scalpel shows some of the logistical or political difficluties to getting aid programmes started only serves to underline the determination to battle through these problems, overcoming obstacles as they arise.

As Richard himself says: “We shared a common goal – to put the patients first. Healthcare systems around the world have a lot to learn from Merlin’s selfless staff. I was proud to have been one of their number.”

We were proud to work with Richard too and even prouder that his and our endeavours have been so brilliantly recorded in Winged Scalpel.

About Merlin

Merlin (www.merlin.org.uk) is an international health charity, saving lives in the world’s toughest places. Merlin responds with healthcare when people are overwhelmed by natural disaster, conflict or disease. After the immediate crisis, Merlin stays on to assist recovery –building resilience so that those at risk of future health disasters are better prepared.

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