Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Somalia: 'We don't ask our patients what side they are on'

Mohamed Yusuf is director-general of Madina Hospital, the largest in Mogadishu. He is also one of the most senior surgeons left in the capital. He returned to Somalia in 2002 after working overseas for several years. Like some of his colleagues, he has been threatened and harassed as he went about his duties at Madina. On 23 March Yusuf almost died when he was attacked as he drove to work. As the world marked World Health Day on 7 April, Yusuf spoke to IRIN about his daily challenges:

"I had a good job and a comfortable life in southern Africa but decided in 2002 to return because I knew that my services were needed. However, it has not been easy.

"Up to now, I cannot tell you why I was attacked on 23 March or by whom. The answer could be as simple as someone who was told that the hospital was full and their relative or friend could not be accommodated. It is crazy, but it happens.

"Some days I am here [in Madina] working a 48-hour shift without much rest. The worst times are when the fighting is so heavy that either I cannot get to the hospital or, if I am there, the injured cannot make it to the facility. I have had people who died after losing a lot of blood because they were brought in too late.

"Being a doctor in Mogadishu is very testing. We have seen everything. We even get gunmen who try to force us to give priority to their friend, even if you are in surgery; you have to have commitment to persevere.

"The worst thing about attacks on doctors and hospitals is that it's not only doctors who are killed but the effect it has on others, who give up and leave; this way, we lose talent that we cannot afford to lose. That also takes away from the people who depended on them.

"I have to admit that after I was attacked I asked myself what I am doing, but I am staying.

"I stay because I believe that I will only die when my time comes. But more importantly, I truly believe that I am needed here and I will not be able to live with myself if I abandon those who depend on my services and the services of doctors like me.

"Every doctor in Mogadishu is going through the same experience I am, yet they carry on; we have to. We cannot all run away.

"For this day [World Health Day], I am appealing to the warring parties, whoever they are, to see healthcare givers and health centres as apolitical and neutral, and to not only protect and respect but also to support them.

"After all, we don’t ask our patients what side they are on."

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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