Dr Dame Claire Bertschinger DBE DL

Dr Dame Claire Bertschinger DBE DL

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Head of Tropical Nursing

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Claire was a young field nurse in Ethiopia when Michael Buerk interviewed her for a BBC report on the famine. She was irritated by his ‘stupid questions,’ but told him her grimmest task was to decide which children might survive if let in to the feeding station, and which must be left to die. The report inspired Geldof to set up Live Aid. Claire explains that everybody can make a difference and create value, not just be a consumer.


In 1984 Claire Bertschinger was a field nurse in Mekele, northern Ethiopia, in charge of distributing the limited food rations at her disposal. She was forced to choose the children and adults with the best chance of survival and, in her own words, ‘felt like a Nazi commandant, deciding who would live and who would die’. When Michael Buerk approached with a camera crew and questions, Claire outlined the scale of the tragedy taking place every day.

The impact of Buerk’s famine report is widely accepted. When Claire met Bob Geldof, he introduced her to Richard Curtis, scriptwriter and co-founder of Comic Relief with the words, ‘This is the girl who started it all’. She has also worked in other trouble spots including Lebanon, Afghanistan, Sudan, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

In her autobiography,
Moving Mountains, Claire relives the harrowing experiences of her career, as well as the unexpected moments of kindness. She is now head of tropical nursing at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Claire has been awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal and was honoured for her inspirational nursing career with the Woman of the Year - Window to the World Award and the Human Rights and Nursing Award from The International Centre for Nursing Ethics. In 2010 she was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

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Claire Talking about her Work in Afghanistan