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THE desperate scenes of Afghans fleeing Kabul in fear brings back traumatic memories for Dr Waheed Arian.
The leading NHS radiologist and emergency specialist left his home country during the Soviet conflict in the 1980s – narrowly escaping death several times as rockets rained down.
After a childhood spent being “shelled by the Russians”, civil war raged on their withdrawal – with the Taliban taking control of the country in 1996.
“The scenes have triggered my own post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” he admits.
“People are fleeing to Pakistan and Iraq because they have memories of what happened twenty years ago and people are scared the same thing is going to happen again.
“Afghans are exhausted and scared and there's a feeling of entering another cycle of conflict.
“No one knows what to expect but I do know we need compassion – humanitarian help and compassion towards refugees.”
Having lived in cellars to survive the relentless bombings of the Afghanistan civil war that followed the Soviet War, Waheed and his family fled to a refugee camp in Pakistan when he was just five years old.
After contracting a nearly fatal combination of malaria and tuberculosis thanks to the conditions in the camp, he developed a dream to become a doctor and save lives.
Now a top NHS radiologist he has been nominated for the Best Doctor gong at The Sun’s Who Cares Wins awards.
And the 36-year-old father of two has called on the Government to do more to allow refugees fleeing the conflict to come safely to the UK.
While millions of law-abiding Afghans – Waheed’s family and former neighbours included – try to escape Taliban rule, Waheed fears for his family and his friends.
Every spare second Dr Arian has on his 14 hour NHS shifts in A&E this week is spent checking WhatsApp to see if he’s heard from his brother Javed and father Taj.
The last message he received from his brother on Sunday left him in tears.
It read: "They are in Kabul bro. Guns are firing and people are escaping."
Dr Arian remembers his own exit from Afghanistan’s capital.
His father sold the family home and possessions in exchange for documents that would help him fly to the UK, where they had a family friend.
Waheed took jobs as a kitchen porter, cleaner and salesman while he completed his education, eventually gaining the A-Levels required to study medicine at Cambridge University.
And after graduating from medical school in 2010, Waheed had two aims.
“I wanted to give back to this country and the NHS, and I wanted to help the country I was born in,” he said.
After starting up Arian Teleheal in 2015 – a charity which supports medics in war torn countries – and having worked on the frontline of the Covid pandemic, Waheed has done both.
He came to the UK aged just 15 in 1999 as a traumatised child refugee.
“I had £80 in my pocket and no family. I was a child and it was terrifying,” he admits.
Taking on several jobs including one as a cleaner, Waheed worked to get his A-Levels and was accepted to study medicine at Cambridge – making a lifelong dream become a reality.
“I knew when I qualified I wanted to help medics who didn’t qualify in this country,” he said.
“Hospitals in Afghanistan and across the world don’t have the facilities the NHS do – looking at scans against windows rather than light boxes, having more patients than one doctor can look after, they’re real issues for a lot of hospitals.
“Our volunteer medics aren’t better doctors than their colleagues in war zones – but they have been fortunate enough to be able to access more training and education, and they are using that privilege to give advice which is helping care for thousands of people worldwide, all in their spare time.”
Having fought the UK pandemic alongside his Teleheal work, Waheed says the Best Doctor nomination means the world.
Finalists will be invited to a glittering ceremony hosted by Davina McCall in London next month and screened by Channel 4.
“This country gave me a future, a job, security, an education and so much,” Waheed said.
“Being nominated for the Best Doctor award is overwhelming. All I wanted to do when I set up Teleheal was help doctors access the amazing expertise the UK can offer.”
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