SOS Doctor returns to Somali war zone
Field report from Mogadishu
Why would a well qualified doctor with a good job in Europe return to one of the most dangerous places in the world? Dr Abdullahi Hussein did exactly that and says he has no regrets. "I saw with my own eyes a young woman who had a 40-day-old baby. The baby was delivered by a traditional midwife and she had to pay 400,000 Somali shillings. But the lady only had 50,000 Somali shillings so the midwife kept the baby until the woman could pay."
Such is the tragedy of life in Somalia. As if the daily suffering caused by civil war, rising food prices and drought, isn't enough, women are also forced to give up newborn babies as part of the mire of the poverty trap.
Fortunately the woman in question managed to borrow enough money to buy her baby back. She then took it to the new SOS Mother and Child Clinic set up in Afgoye, 22 km from Mogadishu. There she was able to receive free vaccinations and medical treatment for her young baby, as well as free medical treatment for herself. And it was there that she met Dr Abdullahi Hussein Moallin, the medical coordinator at the SOS Mother and Child Clinic, who was
shocked to hear the story of the baby's birth.
From Europe to Somalia
Dr Abdullahi is a paediatrician who qualified as a doctor from the University of Somalia in 1988. In 1991, at the start of the civil war, he joined the SOS Hospital in Mogadishu where he worked until 1995, before joining the University of Milan to take post graduate studies in paediatrics. After three years of study Dr Abdullahi moved with his family to England and worked there until 2005 until he decided to return to Somalia to help his people. He joined an Italian NGO and became a medical director of a hospital in Joha, 90km from Mogadishu.
Dr Abdullahi never lost touch with his old colleagues at SOS Children's Villages and in 2006 he they asked him to consider returning to the SOS Mother and Child Clinic Mogadishu where people with his qualifications were badly needed. He agreed.
But 2007 was not a good year for the SOS Mother and Child Clinic Mogadishu. After the Ethiopian invasion of Mogadishu, the area where the hospital is located became a scene of constant fighting between allied Ethiopian and Somali government troops and insurgents. The hospital and Children's Village were caught in the middle and were damaged by shelling, despite playing no part in the fighting. In December 2007, the SOS Mother and Child Clinic Mogadishu closed - the first time it had done so throughout 17 years of civil war - and the Children's Village was evacuated.
Hospital reopens despite the fighting
In March 2008 Dr Abdullahi and Ahmed Ibrahim, the Director of SOS Children's Villages Somalia, planned to reopen the hospital. They called the staff together and all agreed to return to work, despite the ever present danger of armed road blocks, snipers and shelling. "We opened on 15 March", recounts Dr Abdullahi, "but after four days the militia came and started shooting around the hospital - the battle lasted 12 hours. We remained inside the hospital, very frightened. During that time we lost our anaesthetist through a stray bullet. When doctors are injured there is no other medical help to turn to".
The medical staff began work on emergency cases and Caesarean sections and gradually increased the medical coverage to include mother and child health care and outpatients' clinics.
Expanding the service to the most needy
After one month, Dr Abdullahi and his staff opened the satellite clinic in Afgoye, where there are many internally displaced people. They began with mother and child health care and an outpatients department, until Dr Abdullahi met the woman who had to give up her baby as payment to her midwife for delivering it. Realising her case was the tip of the iceberg, Dr. Abdullahi opened a delivery room where women could deliver their babies and the babies could be vaccinated, all free of charge.
The Afgoye clinic is run by a mobile team who spend 24 hours in the SOS Mother and Child Clinic Mogadishu and the next 24 hours in the field in Afgoye. In Afgoye they see between 150 and 200 patients a day and on Saturdays they often have 300.
An inspiration to others
Ahmed Ibrahim is grateful for Dr Abdullahi's return to the SOS Mother and Child Clinic Mogadishu. "It boosted our morale", he said, "that someone came from Europe to work in Mogadishu and it made it much easier to reopen the hospital. He was so willing and it was his initiative that inspired others to come back to work".
Despite the risks, Dr Abdullahi is very happy to be back in Somalia. "I am very happy to help my people", he asserts, "who are living in these difficult conditions." Even though his own family are still in England, Dr Abdullahi feels compelled to stay in Mogadishu. "My people are suffering", he states, "and when they are suffering I have to help".
Relevant Countries: Somalia.