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US doctor in South Kordofan receives Aurora Prize

May 29 - 2017 YEREVAN
Tom Catena visiting Yerevan to accept the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, 22 May 2017 (
Tom Catena visiting Yerevan to accept the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, 22 May 2017 (

The $1 million Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity of 2017 was awarded to Dr Tom Catena, a Catholic physician​ from New York who has saved thousands of lives as the sole doctor permanently based in Sudan’s war-ravaged Nuba Mountains where humanitarian aid is restricted.

The Aurora Prize is granted by the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative on behalf of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide, and was announced in Yerevan, Armenia. Dr Catena was selected as the 2017 Aurora Prize Laureate from more than 550 nominations submitted from 66 countries.

“Dr Catena is a role model to us all, and yet another example of people on the ground truly making a difference,” George Clooney, Academy Award-winning actor, co-founder of both The Sentry and Not On Our Watch, and co-chair of the Aurora Prize Selection Committee, said.

During the award ceremony on 22 May, the physician received a $100,000 grant, and the opportunity to continue the cycle of giving by donating the accompanying $1 million award to organisations of his choice: the African Mission Healthcare Foundation and the Catholic Medical Mission Board in the USA
, and to Aktion Canchanabury in Germany.

On being named the 2017 Aurora Prize Laureate, Dr Catena said, “We all have an obligation to look after our brothers and sisters. It is possible that every single person can make a contribution, and to recognize that shared humanity can lead to a brighter future. With my faith as my guide, I am honoured to continue to serve the world and make it a better place.”


For the last nine years, “Dr Tom” has been on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the Mother of Mercy Catholic Hospital to care for more than 750,000 Nuba people.

Dr Tom Catena in the Nuba Mountains (

Since 2011, he and his Nuba staff are working amidst a civil war between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North. The hospital was subject to bombings by the Sudanese air force in May 2014.

Patients have been known to walk for up to seven days to receive treatment for injuries from bombing attacks and ailments varying from bone fractures to malnourishment and malaria. It is estimated that Dr Catena treats 500 patients per day and performs more than one thousand operations each year.

Dr Catena embodies the spirit of the Aurora Prize, and we extend our deepest gratitude to him and the people and organizations around the world that support and inspire him to continue his noble work despite immensely challenging conditions,” said Ruben Vardanyan, co-founder of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative.

In 2016, the The Heart of Nuba appeared, a documentary about his work in the Mother of Mercy Hospital, “nestled in the heart of the Nuba Mountains” in South Kordofan. The film has been screened in various parts of world.


The naming of the 2017 Aurora Prize Laureate follows the release of the Aurora Humanitarian Index, the second annual global public opinion survey that gauges attitudes towards humanitarian responsibility, the effectiveness of humanitarian intervention, and individuals’ motivations to intervene on behalf of others.

The Index found that support for humanitarian action is on a steep decline, and that a rise in populism around the world is affecting the public’s perception of efforts made to aid refugees around the world.

“We hope the findings from this year’s Aurora Humanitarian Index serve as motivation for individuals around the world to not only understand their capacity for meaningful impact, but be inspired to act upon it,” said Noubar Afeyan, co-founder of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative.

Foreign aid saves lives’

On Sunday, the Guardian newspaper published an article by Dr Catena in which he calls for financial support from the international community. He says his heart sank last week when President Trump announced proposed cuts in the foreign aid budget. He pointed to similar developments in Australia and the UK as well.

“This comes at a time when the world faces its worst humanitarian crisis since 1945, according to the UN. Twenty million people face starvation without an immediate injection of funds in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria,” he states, calling on the international community “to help us better serve the people who need our services.

“At a time when famine is reaching a crisis point in parts of Africa, and countless children are dying of starvation, the need for support from the world’s richest nations is even more critical,” he concluded.

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