Angelo Pirola, humanitarian health worker for over 20 years, specialized in neurophysiopathology and neuroscience, is the vice president of Medici del Mondo Italia since December 22nd 2020, the day of the birth – or, rather of the rebirth – of the organization. We asked him some questions, to learn about the challenges and goals he sees in the future of MdM.

Why Medici del Mondo Italia was born?

Medici del Mondo Italia is not born: it is reborn. The birth dates back to 1993, when a group of doctors from Milan, supported by Médecins du Monde France, formed an association to promote emergency intervention during the crisis in the former Yugoslavia. Until 2004 they also carried out domestic programs for homeless people and drug users in the area of the Milan Central Station, as well as international projects, especially in Ecuador. Then, in 2004, an internal division caused the organization split into two new realities still present in Italy: Medici Volontari Italiani, based in Milan, and Medici per i Diritti Umani, based in Rome.

In 2007, Medici del Mondo Italia was re-established under the impulse of those who, being Italian and having carried out humanitarian missions with the Médecins du Monde movement at an international level, felt the lack of this organization in Italy. In 2011, during the first migratory wave, this made it possible to carry out emergency interventions in the migrant camps of Puglia, in Manduria. At the end of 2015, after an analysis of the European and Italian context, the first projects were launched: at first only in Calabria, then also in Sicily and in Rome, to give access to medical care and, thus, guarantee the right to health for migrant populations arriving in Italy from Libya.

Up to now, both from a human resources and a financial point of view, the projects have been made possible by the network of Médecins du Monde. In particular, by the French and Spanish delegations, who have supported us on several occasions in recent years.

Now Medici del Mondo Italia is reborn as a truly Italian organization, with the aim of being useful in our territory starting from the values of Médecins du Monde. Our mission, therefore, is the defence of the right to health and human rights in general, paying particular attention to vulnerable populations residing in Italy but always turning a hand towards the world.

The Vice President of MdM Italy during a training experience with the United Nations

What are the most important challenges that Medici del Mondo will have to face in Italy?

Surely addressing the causes of the inequality of our time. We want to contribute to the establishment of a strong, united, respectful, open and innovative civil society. We must continue to grow as humanity with respect for diversity, cooperating and winning the battle on the causes that generate hatred and violence between people, considered a public health problem for us.

At the same time, humanity is equally vulnerable from a biological point of view. We must, therefore, learn to live in harmony with nature, overcoming and controlling the spread of pathogens and securing people vulnerable to natural disasters.

Ultimately, the challenge is to fight all diseases together, including injustice, violence and hatred. And this means contributing to the development of policies aimed at improving the determinants of health, which in turn influence the health of everyone, without distinction.

Angelo Pirola in Sierra Leone, during the health emergency caused by the Ebola virus

What are the goals for the future, in the short and in the long term?

Without any doubt, intervening both in Italy and abroad to promote tangible social and health projects in favour of those are living in a situation of vulnerability, because it is the society that makes them so. Therefore, to promote social inclusion on the national territory and to commit ourselves abroad in the field of international development cooperation. But also to face humanitarian emergencies caused by political instability, conflicts, violence, hunger, epidemics or natural disasters, improving access to health for people in marginal conditions.

Another objective is to raise awareness through development education and education for social transformation, to promote human rights, denounce social exclusion, overcome inequalities, promote access to social and health services and, thus, affirm a culture of peace.

All this by encouraging models of active behaviour in favour of justice and social voluntary service in the places where cooperation programs are carried out, but also by increasing co-responsibility between women and men for equitable social development in the communities and in the populations themselves, while respecting the nature and the environment.

Fundamental to the achievement of these objectives is the development of a network of exchange and collaboration between the various actors present in the area who share the same purposes and the same humanitarian values as Medici del Mondo Italia. Italy is full of capable, brilliant, sensitive people towards others and humanity as a whole.

Angelo Pirola in Haiti in 2016 for cholera prevention and control activities

What legacy from France?

Not only from France, but also from Spain, Greece, Canada, Belgium, Portugal, the United States, Argentina, Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq , from Senegal, from Burkina Faso, from Mali… We work as an international network in 73 countries, and the legacy is enormous.

In all these places we have promoted urgent projects, but above all development projects, supporting civil society and local Ministries of Health to establish and/or reinforce health policies: from mental health to sexual and reproductive health up to nutritional health. We have also promoted surgical projects to improve on-site medical capacity, so that it is of quality and sustained over time.

But the inherited experience is also huge in the prevention and control of infections at epidemic and pandemic levels, as well as with respect to the ability to reach remote areas to provide a model of health that respects nature, anthropology and local culture.

Where we are called to work, we always make our small contribution to ensure that the right to health is an applicable, clear and available right for all.

We are a privileged country, because we have a unique cultural and scientific heritage in the world. We must continue to assert it for us, among us, and for those who need us.

Interview by Elisa Bertoli