Some call him the ‘Doctor Of Poor People’. Others call him the ‘Saviour Of The Sahel’.
He is Aussie surgeon, Dr Ken Elliott. For more than 40 years he and his wife Jocelyn have loved, treated and tended the wounds of the sick and poor of West Africa.
And now, they’ve been kidnapped – by extremists linked to either Al-Qaeda or ISIS.
People of faith are being urged to pray for the missing couple, who were abducted from their home in Sub-Saharan Burkina Faso, on Saturday, January 16.
Originally from Perth, the Elliotts have been based in the town of Djibo, in Burkina Faso’s north, since 1972, working primarily among the Fulani people. Together they’ve built a 120-bed hospital, the only one of its kind around .
Dr Elliott is the only reliable surgeon for a population of two million people, writes Fairfax.
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Dragged From Their Beds While Sleeping
It was 4am when Islamic terrorists, believed to be linked to al-Qaeda, stormed the Elliotts’ house, woke them from their sleep and dragged them from their beds, according to a Fairfax report.
Authorities in Burkina Faso believe the couple may then have been smuggled north to Mali, in the Saharan Desert.
Although Burkina Faso’s foreign minister Alpha Barry told the French current affairs agency RFI on January 22 that he was “optimistic” the couple would be released, at the time of writing there was still no news of their whereabouts.
Likely To Be Alive, Says Terrorism Expert
Terrorism expert Clive Williams, an adjunct professor at Macquarie University’s Department of Security Studies and Criminology, wrote in The Age that it was unlikely the kidnapped couple would be released quickly.
He was more positive, though, about the likelihood that they are alive and will survive.
“The Elliotts’ long experience of local conditions, and Ken Elliott being a doctor, might help to maintain their health,” he wrote. “He should also be useful to his captors in dealing with local health issues and battle casualties.”
“The Elliotts’ long experience of local conditions, and Ken Elliott being a doctor, might help to maintain their health.”
In other words, the Elliotts are more useful to his kidnappers if they stays alive. They are likely to be used to demand a ransom.
Professor Williams, as well as being an expert in terrorism and politically-motivated violence, is also a friend of Terry Waite – the envoy for the British Church Of England, who was abducted in 1991 by Jihadists in Lebanon and held captive for five years.
Having long studied the movements of kidnappers and their motives, Prof Williams expects the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Australian Federal Police will now be working with authorities in Mali and Burkina Faso to gather information about the kidnappers.
Hundreds Gather To Protest The Elliotts’ Kidnapping
Meanwhile in Djibo, the community is up in arms, devastated that extremists have taken away their doctor.
In the days following the abduction, a number of public rallies have been held, attended by hundreds of local people, community leaders and heads of religious groups, calling for their release.
A Facebook page called “Djibo Soutient Dr Ken Elliott” (Djibo Supports Dr Ken Elliot) has been set up, as well as a petition.
A Burkinabese friend of the Elliots, Dicko Seydou, said he believed the pair would have been an easy target because they are so generous and trusting, according to Fairfax. He said the community is calling for his return.
“Dr Elliott is more than 100 [of our] lives …because people depend on him,” Mr Seydou said.
“Every second is important to the patients, to people from this area. It’s really important for us to have him back and safe.”
Showing God’s Love Through Medical Work
Motivated by a desire to share God’s love, the Elliotts first served the people of Africa on a four-year mission with SIM in Benin, reopening a hospital that had closed down. There they felt the call to the Burkina Faso area and began the work they continue today.
The couple have never appealed for donations, instead living by faith in God’s provision.
Dr Elliott, now 80, has been searching lately for a doctor to take his post as he grows older.
“We’re doing what we believe is mission work… meeting a need,” he said in a video interview recorded in 2012.
“Our ultimate aim is to show the love of God, the goodness and power of God, through medicine. Our great thrust is surgery because that is, in our opinion, lacking throughout the region of West Africa.”
Dr Elliott and his team of local assistants treat hernias, bladder stones, tumours and more, and run public health campaigns.
“You name it, we do it, because there’s no one else to do it,” he said.
The ‘Saviour Of The Sahel’, ‘More African Than Australian’
Headmaster of the high school in Djibo, Amadou Maiga, told the French media site The Observers that the Elliotts were deeply respected and trusted in the community.
He described him as a “saviour” to the Sahel, the semi-arid region south of the Sahara that spans across 10 African nations.
“The people here really need Doctor Elliott. He’s the saviour of the Sahel,” Mr Maiga said.
“He arrived here in 1972… he’s never expressed any desire whatsoever to leave. He’s become more Burkinabe than Australian. “
Mr Maiga described Dr Elliott as “very reserved” and “always very busy”, and his wife Jocelyn as “very much loved and cherished in Djibo”.
“She looks after children with malnutrition and people suffering from mental health problems,” he said. “Their whole lives revolve around this clinic.”
“The people here really need Doctor Elliott. He’s the saviour of the Sahel”
Mr Maiga said “everybody knows” Dr Elliott, and that people come from as far away as Ivory Coast or Niger to be seen by him.
“In every family, at least one person has been treated by this doctor and lots of infants were born in his clinic,” he said. “Sometimes, he didn’t even charge for the check-up. He treated everybody, regardless of your income or your religious beliefs.”
Richard Lugg, a fellow student of Ken’s in their university days studying medicine, told the ABC that the Elliotts have three children and three grandchildren.
He described Dr Elliott as a “friendly and dedicated” man.
“It is tragic that at the end of his career, this should happen to him,” he said.