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Last Updated: Friday, 1 July, 2005, 23:51 GMT 00:51 UK
The nurse who inspired Live Aid
By Jane Elliott
BBC News health reporter

Claire Bertschinger
Claire was awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal
Scenes of starving children, who were within days or hours of death, were beamed round the world in 1984.

One of the most enduring images in Michael Buerk's BBC report from Ethiopia was of a young British nurse, surrounded by 85,000 starving people.

Claire Bertschinger had the daily task of deciding which children would be allowed into the feeding station and which were too sick to be saved.

Singer Bob Geldof said the young nurse had been his inspiration for the original Band Aid single and Live Aid.


"In her was vested the power of life and death," said Geldof at the time, "She had become God-like and that is unbearable for anyone."

In fact the events of 1984 and 1985 left Claire so traumatised that for two decades she was unable to speak to anyone about what she had seen.

I felt like a Nazi sending people to the death camps
Claire Bertschinger

Claire, a nurse for the International Committee of the Red Cross, carried on her work in the feeding centre in Mekele, in Tigrey, and shut herself off from media reports, oblivious to the fact that she was the catalyst for so much fundraising.

"For me, the experience was so horrendous I did not want to read anything or hear anything about it," she said.

"It was a lot to do with my coping mechanism and shutting out my horror.

"I did not realise I was the catalyst for Live Aid. I did not know I had been on the film.

"I heard the Band Aid single but did not realise something was being done for Ethiopia, I thought he (Geldof) was making money for himself."

"I did not know a lot of what was going on in the outside world at that time. I was so engrossed in the feeding station.

"At the time you were so busy you would either sink or swim and I just carried on. I got sick and got boils, but I am a fighter and I went with my challenges."


When Michael Buerk and the BBC crew arrived, Claire had been in the country for nearly four months, during which time few people in the world knew of their plight.

Following his film the world was mobilised and aid started pouring in.

But Claire said one of her clearest memories of that day was taking an anaemic baby to the hospital for a blood transfusion.

Sir Bob in Ethiopia in 1985
Sir Bob was moved by famine

"They had no blood, so I gave him one unit of mine and my diary entry was that 'today I have done something'."

On Monday Claire publishes her autobiography, entitled 'Moving Mountains', (published by Doubleday) using her diary entries, letters and memories to paint a vivid picture of her experiences.

Michael Buerk said 'Moving Mountains' was the story "one of the true heroines of our times."

He said she was: "An ordinary woman who did extraordinary things and really did move mountains."


Claire uses her diary entries to illustrate just how intolerable the situation in Ethiopia had become, and her despair at the terrible choices she was being forced to make.

One entry states: "There are thousands of people outside. I have counted 10 rows and each row has more than 100 people in and I can only take 60-70 children today, but they all need to come in.

"Hell, what a job. How can I decide?"

She said she felt overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis and that it was not until she went back to visit Ethiopia 18 months ago, meeting some of the children she had help to save, that she realised she had actually done some good.

This is the story of the woman who inspired Live Aid, one of the true heroines of our times
Michael Buerk

"I felt like a Nazi sending people to the death camps. Why was I in this situation? Why was it possible in this time of plenty that some have food and some do not? It is not right."

After her time in Ethiopia, Claire spend a couple of years in Switzerland, working and learning French.

She now lives in the UK and teaches at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Claire, who is a guest at Live 8 this weekend, said although the celebrity input had helped raise awareness of poverty; that everybody needed to play their part if the World was to finally 'Make Poverty History'.

A proportion of the royalties from Claire's book will be donated to A-CET the African Children's Educational Trust - a small charity supporting needy young Africans to improve themselves through education.

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