RIYADH: Dubbed the “humanitarian arm of Saudi Arabia,” the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center continues to expand around the world. However, there are many people out there who probably don’t know the Doctor who gives life to this human organization.
King Salman established the King Salman Center for Relief and Charity Works in 2015 with the aim of “providing relief and assistance to all those in need around the world.” In April of the same year, Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, a pediatric surgeon and advisor to the Saudi Royal Court, was appointed general supervisor of the institution.
This is not the first time that Dr. Al Rabeeah has held public office. He previously served as the Kingdom’s Minister of Health and was responsible for several major medical projects and institutions. For 30 years, he was head of a program responsible for separating Siamese born into poor families.
Since his first surgery in 1990, Dr. Al Rabeeah has separated so many children that when he brought them together for Saudi Siamese Separation Program meetings, they barely fit into the picture frame.
In these family photos are children from all over the world, some of whom are already adults. They stay in touch with the doctor who for many has become a father figure, the one who gave them a new lease on life.
He also considers them his children.
“For me, every twin is important and I can tell you that for me and all my colleagues, the team, these babies are part of our family,” Dr. Alrabiah told Arab News.
Patients from 23 countries have benefited from his surgical skills.
The Siamese phenomenon is rare. It is thought to occur about once every 50,000 to 60,000 births, with a slightly higher frequency in southwest Asia and Africa.
Dr. Alrabiah and his team have separated 55 Siamese couples so far. Their last operation was in January, when they operated on Ali and Omar, two Iraqi children bound below their chests and stomachs, sharing livers, bile ducts and intestines.
The six-stage operation at King Abdullah Children’s Hospital in Riyadh took 11 hours and 27 doctors and nurses from various specialties participated in it.
Many other operations proved to be much longer and were performed by larger teams, depending on the point of attachment and the internal parts shared between the children.
Every case is different, but the emotional moment at the end of the process remains the same.
“After the operation, when the parents come with tears of joy, this is what warms my heart,” says Dr. Alrabiah. “We have seen this with every twin. In Poland, Yemen, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, etc.
Most doctors try to stay away from their patients, especially in situations where lives are at stake, because they fear their work may be too emotionally fraught.
For Dr. Alrabiah, distance is impossible especially when his patients are children. He strongly believes that, to be successful, a physician must treat his patients like members of his own family.
“When you help save or improve the lives of children, especially Siamese, and you see them, how one body became two bodies, one bed became two beds… I don’t think it’s something that can be easily forgotten. And for me, it’s a bond that lasts a lifetime.”
Despite his increasing presence in public life in Saudi Arabia over the years, Mr. Al-Rabeeah did not stop practicing his profession as a physician, and continued to practice surgery even as a minister.
His vocation is medicine and saving lives – a path he wouldn’t change, even if he went back four decades and chose another field.
“When I started studying medicine, I believed in it,” he says, recalling when he entered the Faculty of Medicine at King Saud University in Riyadh.
“When I chose to specialize in pediatric surgery, I believed in surgery, and I believed in children (…). I always teach this to my children: Don’t do anything unless you believe in it.”
Dr. Al-Rabiah’s medical ethics are reflected in his humanitarian work with the King Salman Relief Center, which has provided emergency, food and medical aid since its inception in 90 countries.
These interventions, representing more than $6 billion, have enabled Saudi Arabia to position itself, over the past eight years, among the most generous and fastest-growing donors in the world.
The scale and speed of Saudi Arabia’s emergency response was evident when devastating earthquakes struck southern Turkey and northern Syria last month, killing more than 50,000 people. In some of the affected areas, KSrelief teams were the first foreign rescue workers to arrive with emergency aid and medical care.
The humanitarian crisis in Turkey and Syria also highlighted the mission of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center in encouraging public participation and supporting Saudi relief missions. In the weeks since launching its online campaign for earthquake relief, KSrelief has raised more than $130 million in private donations.
“As for the Saudi (emergency) response in Syria and Turkey, I am proud of it,” Dr. Al Rabeeah told Arab News on the sidelines of the Riyadh International Humanitarian Forum organized by the King Salman Center and the United Nations in Saudi Arabia. DC at the end of February.
During the conference, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia insisted on strengthening communication between actors in the field of global aid and finding solutions to problems related to interventions, at a time when the number of natural and human-origin disasters appears to be increasing.
“We are witnessing an increasing number of conflicts, disasters and earthquakes, so we need to improve our response and be faster,” says Dr. Alrabiah. “Coordination remains an issue, especially when there is an emergency response, and this is an area that was also discussed – how to achieve better coordination.”
With the number of projects and interventions increasing each year and the support it receives from the Saudi government, KSrelief can be at the forefront of improving global aid in the future.
“King Salman Relief Center is the humanitarian arm of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” says Dr. Alrabiah. “I expect that in 10 years, KSrelief will be one of the main players in the humanitarian field. Not only to provide assistance, because anyone can provide assistance, but also to play a role in shaping aid policies and improving the quality of aid.”
And there is no doubt that his dedication to the cause has been overestimated. “Nothing touches me more than helping those in need,” says Dr. Alrabiah. “I believe that.”
This text is a translation of an article published on Arabnews.com
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