Amid incessant violence and intensified humanitarian crisis, health providers in Somalia are striving to help the country’s government save lives and reduce illness.
Amid incessant violence and intensified humanitarian crisis, health providers in Somalia are striving to help the country’s government save lives and reduce illness. Last month’s Mogadishu attack that killed Somalia officials and graduating medical students was a reminder of the challenges faced by a country whose population today is suffering more than at any time in the past nineteen years.
While much is being done to alleviate a crisis in which 3.6 million people (almost half the country’s population) need humanitarian assistance, the international community has called for urgent financial support to prevent a further decline in conditions for the country’s long-suffering women, men and children.
“The challenges we face are shrinking humanitarian space, the chronic emergency situation that seems to worsen by the day, insecurity, the lack of properly trained health personnel and the operational challenges to get supplies in place,” said Marthe Everard, the representative of the World Health Organization to Somalia. “But we keep committed because we are here to help the Somali population.”
In 2009, the ratio of children suffering from acute malnutrition increased from one in six at the start of the year to one in five by the end. Measles coverage in South Central Somalia is 26%. The number of children killed and maimed as a result of fighting continues to rise. Violence in 2009 has displaced thousands of people, adding to the number of Somalis already forced from their homes by conflict. Currently, 1.55 million Somalis are displaced, including more than 500,000 who are now living in temporary shelters in the Afgooye Corridor, the 30-kilometre stretch of road west of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, which is the most densely populated settlement in the world.
One way to improve the lives and wellbeing of Somalis is through better medical care. WHO and its health partners are working on multiple fronts to do this. Immunization campaigns, training of health workers, establishing mobile health facilities, monitoring for and responding to disease outbreaks, and delivering essential medicines and equipment are among key ways that WHO and its Health Cluster partners are trying to meet health needs.
With large sections of Somalia embroiled in conflict, health providers face increased challenges to provide care to affected people. To achieve this, WHO staff and health cluster partners coordinate closely with community leaders to secure the safety of service providers and beneficiaries.
One such service has been the training of Somalia doctors in life-saving surgical techniques. In the South-Central region of the country, where insecurity is high, surgeons from WHO’s Somalia office have recently provided surgical training to thirty-six health workers, including four doctors, in the town of Buale, where for more than thirty years the local population had been without access to such care. In operating theatres equipped by WHO, procedures were demonstrated on how to carry out essential emergency procedures for children, men and women.
“Every day the field hospital was able to treat people with a range of conditions including, tumours, trauma, bullet removal, abscesses, neglected fractures and advanced tuberculosis cases in the hip, spine or neck,” said Dr. Omar Saleh, the WHO surgeon who conducted the Buale training. “We started by showing the doctors how to perform the surgery, then slowly allowing them to take over the procedures and proceeded to the point where they were able to perform the surgery themselves. We hope this service will be able to continue.”
Training local staff is an important part of
the plan to improve health care in Somalia.
Medical students are graduating from
their WHO-supported university studies in
Somalia with the aim to help their people.
The 3 December attack on a graduation ceremony
that killed students, along with three
government ministers, including Minister of
Health Qamr Aden Ali, has not shaken the
resolve of the government and WHO to
keep working to provide better health care
“This attack serves only to reinforce WHO’s commitment to alleviating the country’s health crisis and supporting those people who are determined to improve health care,” WHO said in a statement issued following the attack.
A major factor that threatens the continuation of life-saving care for Somalis is the lack of funding support being provided for humanitarian activities in the areas of health, nutrition and water and sanitation. WHO and health providers, for example, have received less than 40% of the funding requested to support health projects in 2009. For 2010, health providers are urging the international community to take note of the humanitarian challenges facing Somalia and, in turn, fund health activities announced for Somalia in the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) for 2010.
WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Action in Crises, Dr. Eric Laroche, told the attendees of the CAP launch in Geneva last month that if UN agencies and NGOs are not adequately funded to provide health care, people will keep dying. “How can NGOs do their work if they are not being properly funded? How can WHO lead the Health Cluster properly if it is not receiving the required resources? How can we adequately alleviate this massive humanitarian suffering in Somalia without the needed support,” Dr. Laroche said later.
But even with modest amounts of support, millions of Somalis have been able to receive vital health care via humanitarian aid providers. UNICEF, WHO and the Somali Red Crescent regularly conduct Child Health Days that immunize millions of children and provide health interventions to hundreds of thousands of women. WHO and UNFPA work closely on maternal and reproductive health and delivering emergency obstetric care. WHO disease surveillance officers work in every district of the country, monitoring for outbreaks of new diseases and taking note of other health threats. Malaria among users of nets fell from 17% to 6.9%. More than 900,000 people were provided access to safe water in 2009.
“This work needs to continue and to expand if we are going to protect the health of Somalis and help alleviate their suffering,” Dr. Laroche said.
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