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Somalis ask aid agencies to resume

The Standard Digital
Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mrs Shamso Bashir Isse sat pensively at the waiting bay in Afmadhow Health Centre in Somalia with her sick two-year-old daughter.

She had been queuing at the facility for one hour alongside dozens of mothers waiting to see the only ‘doctor’ in the region. The buibui clad 29-year-old woman uses a scarf to whisk away houseflies from the pale face of her daughter, Zainabu.

“Zainabu has had stomach problems for the last one week and the pills we were given by a neighbour have not helped her,” Isse said through an interpreter.

Isse expects her daughter to be treated at the hospital, even though she has no money to buy drugs.

Though the locals call it Afmadhow Health Centre, it can hardly pass for a dispensary.

Hassan Mursil, the clinical officer, is the only health manning the facility, assisted by two staff.

“Things have been very tough for the last two years as the facility has not had medical supplies. We are forced to charge patients some fee to buy medicine from local pharmacists,” Mursil said.

Mursil said about $800 is collected monthly from patients and it is used to pay a token to the two volunteers, the administrator, himself and buy drugs. Complicated cases are mostly referred to Kenya and others to Kismayu where better health facilities exist.

But most of the patients die for lack of transport, as there are few vehicles for the unforgiving terrain and no ambulance.

“Most of the patients have pneumonia, ulcers, urinary tract infections, anaemia, malaria, intestinal worms, respiratory infections, and skin diseases,” Mursil said.

The number of people seeking medication has also shot up from 40 to 70 a day in the past three weeks following liberation of the town from the hold of the Al Shabaab.

“Sadly, we have lost three patients who had complicated cases in the last three weeks since we did not have proper medicine,” Mursil said. When the facility was fully operational, it had 18 employees whose salaries were catered for by NGOs, who left because of constant threats and attacks by Al Shabaab.

The Swedish Welfare Alliance used to support the health facility, which caters for more than 120,000 people. Currently there is no emergency kit and the drug store is almost empty except for some painkillers and antibiotics.

“We used to get medical supplies every six months which was enough. But that has since stopped,” Mursil stated. Mursil trained at a nursing school in Mogadishu and graduated in 1991. He has worked for various NGOs mostly along the Kenya-Somalia border.

The Kismayu born 48-year-old clinical officer is one of the few people who used to freely interact with the Al Shabaab and the locals without fear of repercussions.

“Everyone needs me here irrespective of the side they are in this war that has caused so much negative effects on the people’s general wellbeing and development,” Mursil told The Standard at the hospital.

Almost everyone in the area knows where he lives and his cell-phone number and as such they, knock at his door even at night.

“I used to treat the Al Shabaab fighters. They used to come for me at night or summon me to the health facility through my mobile phone to attend to an emergency,” Mursil said. He said the problem with the militia group is that they had no respect for privacy and professions and that they did not pay for services rendered to them.

The facility also helps pregnant women deliver where the overwhelmed clinical officer also conducts minor surgeries.

“I have been forced to counsel them for lack of drugs as there is little to do. Most of them are poor peasants who cannot afford the cost of traveling to other regions for treatment,” Mursil said.

Call for action

Mr Maahlim Farah, a retired teacher, is appealing to NGOs to resume operations in the area and save locals from dying.

“Donor agencies should as a matter of urgency supply the health facility with drugs as many people have succumbed to preventable and treatable diseases,” Maahlim said.

Mr Hussein Osman, an elder, said expectant mothers have died in the hands of traditional birth attendants owing to lack of medicine and nurses at the dispensary.

“Some of the women have bled to death following botched up operations. Children are born with congenital deformities as their mothers did not attend pre-natal care,” Osman said. With the area having been liberated, it is expected that the doors for donor aid will re-open.


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