Improving Access to Healthcare in Somalia

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MOGADISHU, Somalia — The last several decades have been very difficult for the country of Somalia. After a military coup in 1969 and a subsequent civil war in 1991, the country has been plagued by famine and civil disorder. Due to these conflicts, Somalia is the world’s third-largest source of refugees, behind only Iraq and Afghanistan. Healthcare has suffered greatly. However, there are several organizations that are working the improve healthcare in Somalia.

The crises in Somalia have also led to significant disparities in health for Somali citizens. Diseases such as hepatitis, typhoid fever and malaria pose significant health risks. Only one in three Somali citizens has access to a safe source of drinking water. In 2015, only 46 percent of the country was vaccinated for measles. This is not for lack of trying by the international community. In 1992, the International Committee of the Red Cross spent one-third of its budget on Somalia alone. The root cause of the problem is a lack of medical professionals in the country, many of whom fled the wars and have yet to return. About two-thirds of Somali doctors currently live abroad.

Improving Healthcare in Somalia

In 2015, MATTER, a global nonprofit that focuses on “eliminating barriers to a healthier life,” partnered with the Minnesota Association of People with Disabilities to supply a 60-bed hospital in Mogadishu with all the necessary equipment for a functioning hospital. The equipment was shipped in 40-foot containers that contained everything “from hospital beds to full x-ray rooms.” The hospital is expected to be able to help 200 patients on a daily basis. This may seem like a small impact on Somalia as a whole, but it makes a huge difference to the patients who previously would have gone untreated.

Larger organizations are also taking steps to address the health crisis in Somalia. UNICEF started a program in Somalia called the Joint Health and Nutrition Program (JHNP). Several countries contributed more than $236 million to the program. It was scheduled to last from 2012-2016. Through the JHNP, 3.4 million Somalis now have access to nutrition services and healthcare coverage. The program also successfully opened 16 new midwifery schools and helped train more than 800 midwives to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates.

Improving Mental Health by Video

For those living in Somalia, mental health is just as much of a crisis as physical health. The stresses of living in a country torn by war and famine have increased pressure on the mental states of many Somalis. The World Health Organization reports that “one in three Somali citizens has some sort of mental illness.” Due to a large number of medical professionals that have fled the country, the mentally ill often are unable to get the help that they need.

Furthermore, the country has a tremendous stigma against people with mental illness, which is often reflected in poor treatment practices. Between 2000 and 2010, 90 percent of mentally ill Somalis had been restrained using chains at least once. To address this, therapists with the Mersey Care National Health Service Foundation Trust (MCFT) partnered with the Somali government and other nonprofits. The hope is to offer an innovative new program that would address mental health issues in Somalia as well as the country’s lack of infrastructure for mental health practice.

In this program, mental health professionals from MCFT trained 35 Somali medical professionals on good mental health practice via video-call. At the beginning of the program, most of these doctors had said that they had low confidence in their ability to treat patients with mental illness. By the end, however, most of the medical staff who participated felt like they had significantly improved their knowledge of caring for mentally ill patients. This study, although small, paves the way for further development of mental healthcare in the developing world, particularly in areas experiencing a significant dearth of medical professionals.

Somalia has been through some very difficult times with consequences that have been devastating to Somali citizens’ access to healthcare. However, programs such as those listed here have been able to revitalize the country’s healthcare industry. As they continue to grow and develop, Somali citizens will soon have better access to the coverage that they need to survive.

Kelton Holsen
Photo: Flickr

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