Our lives in Sweden started in the same year, in 1975. We studied medicine at the same university, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. His career was in cardiology, mine in emergency medicine. I believe we’ve both been appreciated clinicians. When writing about him on Facebook, I immediately got a direct message saying he was the best doctor who had ever worked at that particular clinic.
My medical adventures in Africa were more about learning than making valuable contributions to patient care. Not that I didn’t want to, I just didn’t have the necessary knowledge and experience to achieve that. He, on the other hand, made a long term commitment when he co-founded the Addis Cardiac hospital, providing a service that had up till then been unavailable in Ethiopia, with procedures such as PCI and pacemaker implantations. It’s mission is not only to provide high quality care to patients, but to train local doctors, nurses and technicians as well as investing in research and increased awareness about cardiovascular disease.
Swedfund, the development finance institution of the Swedish state has invested in the Addis Cardiac hospital, and he used to collect medical equipment from Swedish hospitals to bring when he travelled there. Once he got caught in customs. He left the suitcases there and was planning to take them back to Sweden. On his way home the ATM was broken and he couldn’t pay the requested fees so he decided to leave the bags and boarded the airplane.
He was taken off that plane and taken into custody, charged with attempting to smuggle goods into the country. It took eleven days before the charges were dropped and he could go back to his family and work in Sweden.
Three years later, in 2013, when visiting Ethiopia for his important work at the clinic, they came and arrested him at his house. He was accused of having bribed the Director General of the Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority to have his case closed. There is no evidence to support that allegation and all charges but one have been dropped. But ever since then he has been incarcerated at the infamous Kaylita prison, waiting for a trial that just keep being postponed. His case is part of a group trial involving around 50 defendants, a process that some experts estimate can take ten years.
An innocent doctor has spent three years incarcerated under terrible conditions for taking the risk of working in a developing country. That makes me furious. I could have been that doctor. It is who I aspire to be like. The kind of doctor who engages in building sustainable care, who tries to make a difference. What upsets me even more about this case, though, is that I probably couldn’t be that doctor. If I as a white, native Swedish doctor had been arrested under these circumstance you would have heard about it all over the western world. When Dr Fikru Maru, born in Ethiopia, but a citizen of Sweden and Sweden only, has his long awaited hearing in court, it doesn’t even make in to the Swedish evening news programs. There are no new articles in International media that I can link to, because none have been written, but two years ago Swedish radio wrote about the case in English.
The Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs claims to engage in the case, but neither the Prime Minister nor the Minister for Foreign Affairs have visited him in prison when traveling to Ethiopia.
Dr Fikru Maru needs to come home to Sweden. The only way to make that happen is to bring attention to the case. Let the world know that health care providers working in developing countries have your support and this is an issue that needs to be sorted out immediately. Share this post to #freefikru.
For international journalists who want to cover the case, please contact me and I’ll put you in contact Fikru’s family and legal representative.