Nurse Dr Dame Claire Bertschinger DBE is credited for inspiring the global fundraising phenomenon, Band Aid and Live Aid, generating around £150m for starving people in Ethiopia.
Her work in the country in 1984, when the effects of civil war and famine led to desperate conditions for the population, was captured in a news broadcast that had a global impact.
During that time, Dame Claire was a field nurse for the International Red Cross, at a feeding station at Mekele, where tens of thousands of refugees had gathered in the hope of getting food. Organising a feeding centre for children, she could provide meals for only 300 a day, when thousands more were starving.
“It was dreadful deciding who would live and who would die,” Dame Claire said. “It was the local workers in the camp who told me that I had to select. They said to me, “these are our brothers, our sisters, our cousins. How can we do it?”
After Sir Bob Geldof saw the BBC report, in which Dame Claire was surrounded by thousands of starving children, he launched Band Aid and Live Aid. He later said: “In her was vested the power of life and death. She had become God-like and that is unbearable for anyone.”
After Ethiopia, Dame Claire worked in more than a dozen war-torn regions, including treating wounded Mujaheddin in Afghanistan and tending children who had lost limbs to landmines. She conducted relief operations in the Ivory Coast and nursed injured Druze militiamen in Lebanon.
She now works as the Director for the Diploma in Tropical Nursing course at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “Since retiring from field work, I have trained other medical professionals and have continually sought to raise awareness of the key issues in global public health. Increasingly, I have become convinced of the centrality of education in making and sustaining any improvements in the developing world.”
Dame Claire’s many awards include the Florence Nightingale Medal, Woman of the Year Window to the World award, and being appointed Dame Commander by Her Majesty the Queen. She delivered a lecture at Staffordshire University, in the Women Who Inspire series, talking about her experiences.
The Award of Honorary Doctor of Staffordshire University is bestowed upon Dame Claire, in recognition of her services to nursing and international humanitarian aid, for continuing to campaign against the causes of poverty across the world and for being an inspirational role model for health professionals.