“South Africa The Good News” website reported that Kaplan had become the 7th recipient of the prestigious Robert Burns Humanitarian Award.
Bestowed in honour of Scotland’s 18th Century poet Robert Burns, the award recognises those individuals who put humanitarian concerns above all else. Kaplan was presented with the award at a special ceremony held in Ayr, Scotland earlier this month.
The South African was shortlisted for the award alongside film-star and UNICEF ambassador Ewan McGregor, and founder of the Ozanam Clubs for disabled young people James Lynch.
Kaplan grew up in South Africa and studied medicine in the University of Cape Town during the 1970’s. After completing his internship Kaplan went into exile to avoid serving in the South African Army under the apartheid regime. Since then he has worked in conflict situations in places as diverse as Angola, Burma, Baghdad and Kurdistan.
Much of Kaplan’s work has seen him perform life-saving surgery with limited resources, against the backdrop of death, disease and poverty, while fighting his own extreme exhaustion.
Presenting Kaplan with the award, Sir Tom Killup, Chair of the Judging Panel, praised the work of humanitarian aid and battle-field medical workers by saying: “They perform amazing selfless acts without a second thought, saving lives that may otherwise have been lost, while raising international awareness of potential humanitarian disasters.”
Accepting the award, Kaplan said: “In those circumstances all one can do is the best one can in the war against death and despair. I have worked alongside people of great generosity of spirit and been inspired by many from within and beyond the practice of medicine. I accept this accolade on their behalf, in the hope that it might inspire others to apply their efforts and skills to saving lives.”
Now 50, Kaplan lives in London and works as a surgeon and GP for the UK’s National Health Services, though remains on stand-by to go to war zones. He is also the author of two books, The Dressing Station (2001) and Contact Wounds (2007), in which he gives an honest and often shocking account of conducting surgery in extreme and primitive conditions.
Previous winners of the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award include Nobel Laureate Sir John Sulston who played a central role in the human genome sequencing project and Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, a human rights activist and outspoken critic of the Mugabe government.
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