Friday, February 18, 2022

UNICEF is seeking USD7 million to combat severe malnutrition in Somalia

 MOGADISHU: The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has requested USD7 million by the end of March to help 1.4 million Somali children who are at risk of acute malnutrition.

According to sources, UNICEF announced on Tuesday that the funds will be used to purchase 104,000 cartons of Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF) to treat children with severe acute malnutrition and prevent deaths.

"The numbers we're witnessing this year are pretty significant, and hundreds of children are at risk of dying unless urgent actions are taken," UNICEF Representative Angela Kearney said in a statement made in Mogadishu, Somalia's capital. According to Kearney, a probable breach in the supply pipeline might result in a severe shortage of RUTF starting in June, putting the lives of over 1,00,000 infants in jeopardy.

According to UNICEF, more than 1.4 million children in Somalia, or over half of the country's under-five population, are at risk of acute malnutrition as a result of the prolonged drought, which has left 4.1 million people on the verge of starvation. According to the most recent Somalia Food Security and Nutrition Assessment, almost a quarter of the 1.4 million children, or 3,29,500 children, will be severely malnourished this year.


Somali doctors open war-scarred nation's only public blood bank

 MOGADISHU, Feb 16 (Reuters) - When Somalia's biggest bomb blast killed more than 500 people in 2017, Dr. Ahmed Abdikadir Mohamed watched helplessly as many of the injured bleeding to death.

Mohamed Abdi Hussein donates blood next to Rage Moalin Ali, who waits to donate blood, and nurse Fatima Hassan, at the Benadir

Exactly one year later, in October 2018, Mohamed opened Benadir Blood Service, Somalia's first public blood bank since 1991.

The bank, run by a team of 20 volunteer doctors, nurses, and lab technicians, delivers life-saving donations to most Mogadishu hospitals.

We are happy to work at this blood bank...the country has no other blood bank and there is a dire need, said 32-year-old Mohamed. While private hospitals have their own small banks, Benadir is the only public one.

"Those who die due to lack of blood are more than those who are killed by bullets," he estimates.

Lack of access to safe blood is a major cause of maternal death. Each year, 5,000 Somali women die from childbirth complications, according to 2017 data from the United Nations Children's Fund, the latest year for which data was available. That same year, there were 740 terror-related deaths, according to the Global Terrorism Index.

In addition to pregnant women and victims of violence, recipients of donated blood include people with chronic diseases.

I have had kidney problems for a long time... my kidneys undergo dialysis. This place helps me... they give me free blood. Thank God, Moalim Rage Ali Irole told Reuters.

One challenge is convincing people to donate. Some of the stigma around donation decreased in the wake of the Oct. 2017 bombings when the government called on citizens to donate, but misconceptions remain, said Mohamed.

One man who brought his sick mother told Mohamed that he would die if he donated blood.

"This is something strange within the community; they think one will die if one donates," said Mohamed. But the team explained its safety and eventually convinced him to donate.

But for 20-year-old Mohamed Haji Hussein, donating has become a source of pride.

I donate my blood for the Somalis... I understand there is a lack of blood: that is why I donate it. To save people, he told Reuters.

Mohamed said other challenges include equipment shortages and scraping together the $700 monthly operating fees.

The bank stores about 100 units of blood. One unit can save up to three lives, according to WHO.

Reporting by Abdi Sheikh, Writing by Ayenat Mersie, Editing by William Maclean


Wednesday, December 29, 2021

CORONAVIRUS: Taiwan to donate domestic COVID-19 vaccines to Somaliland

 Taipei, Dec. 28 (CNA) Taiwan announced Tuesday that it will donate 150,000 doses of the domestically developed Medigen COVID-19 vaccine to Somaliland, as part of its continued assistance to the self-governing East African state in combating the pandemic.

Head of the Taiwan Representative Office in the Republic of Somaliland Wu Chen-chi (吳鎮祺, right) and Somaliland Health Minister Hassan Mohamed Ali Gafadhi Photo courtesy of MOFA

The pledge was made after both sides signed an agreement on the vaccine donation on Monday in Somaliland, according to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) press release.

MOFA said the donation is to be made as Africa faces a huge wave of Omicron variant COVID-19 cases.

According to MOFA, the health authorities in Somaliland have recently granted emergency use authorization (EUA) to the Medigen vaccine.

Medigen is the only domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine that has received EUA from Taiwan's Food and Drug Administration, and its rollout in Taiwan began on Aug. 23.

So far, no other country has granted EUA to Medigen.

Medigen's COVID-19 vaccine is currently undergoing clinical trials in Paraguay, and has also been chosen to take part in the Solidarity Trial Vaccines platform, an international clinical trial platform co-launched by the World Health Organization.

Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991 after years of conflict. It has offices in about a dozen countries, according to its foreign ministry's website, but does not have formal diplomatic relations with any nation.

In February 2020, Taiwan and Somaliland signed an agreement to establish reciprocal representative offices. Taipei opened its office in Somaliland on Aug. 17 that year, while Somaliland opened its office in Taipei the following month on Sept. 9.

(By Joseph Yeh)



Saturday, December 25, 2021

Legacy of hope: physio gives the gift of mobility to Somali children with club foot

 Osman Badiyow has pioneered the Ponseti method in his country, helping at least 350 children to walk – free-of-charge

It took the team three weeks to persuade Micraj, now six, that she could walk after their treatment.

Born with a club foot, which botched surgery did not improve, the little girl was understandably hesitant that things could change.

But the team at the Somali Red Crescent Society (SRCS)-run Mogadishu physical rehabilitation centre persevered. And her mother remembers watching her take her first, faltering steps.

“When we see something good, we say ‘Mashallah’ [God was willing],” Foos Artan Isse says, speaking to The Telegraph over Zoom from the centre. “I was so happy to see her walking. I felt like she has a future now.”

Micraj is one of hundreds of children treated by one remarkable man, Osman Ibrahim Mohamed, one of only four physiotherapists in the whole of Somalia.

In total, he and his team have helped 351 children to walk, free of charge, since establishing their clinic two years ago. They plan to reach 500 by the end of this year.

For Mr Mohamed, they are his life’s work.

“What will I leave after I die?” he says. “I have this. My dream is coming true.”

Mr Mohamed, who goes by the nickname Osman Badiyow, uses the Ponseti method for treating children with club foot – widely seen as the gold standard worldwide.

In fact, he pioneered the use of the treatment in his country.

Club foot is a common condition, first documented by Hippocrates in 400 BC, where babies are born with either one or both of their feet turning inwards.

Untreated, it is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide, with around 7.5 million people living with it globally in low and middle income countries.

It runs in families, and is caused by the Achilles tendon at the back of the foot being too short. It affects around 1 in 1,000 babies in the UK, including footballer Steven Gerrard. Nearly all are treated successfully and learn to walk, take part in physical activities, and wear regular shoes.

That is almost entirely due to the widespread use of the Ponseti method, which involves gently manipulating and stretching the foot soon after birth, and putting it in a cast, every week for five to eight weeks. A minor operation then loosens the Achilles tendon, and special boots worn overnight until a child is around five help prevent the condition returning.

Osman Badiyow is the first person to bring the treatment to Somalia, where basic services have been severely damaged by decades of war and insecurity.

His quest to bring the low-cost, low-resource method to his country has taken more than 20 years: he wrote his thesis on club foot while studying  in Tanzania in 1999, but it took until 2014 for him to get on a course that would teach him how to use it in reality.

In between, in his work at the SRCS, he and the team treated many club foot patients, but often without success despite many months of work.

“So I said to myself, Osman, you are missing something – maybe this Ponseti method is the one you can use to help the children,” he says.

He then wrote personally to Dr Ignacio Ponseti, the inventor of the method in the 1950s (he has since died), in a bid to get the training he needed.

I said, ‘I’m living in Somalia and we have a lot of children affected by club foot that we are trying to correct and we cannot help, and the mothers and children of Somalia are suffering. Can you help me get a course?’, he remembers.

Dr Ponseti, a Spanish-American physician, came through, finding a course for Osman in Iowa and sponsoring his journey; but his visa was denied by the United States authorities. Eventually, with help from a number of organisations, Osman managed to get on a course in Ankara, Turkey in 2014 - but the students were only allowed to practise on plastic models.

With the help of an organisation called Miracle Feet, a global nonprofit aiming to eliminate untreated clubfoot worldwide, and the Global CIubfoot Initiative, Osman was finally able to learn the method on real patients in 2016.

It takes several people to actually conduct the Ponseti method, so more training was needed for team members, including in Kampala, Uganda, over the next few years.

The clinic in Mogadishu officially opened in 2019, two years ago, backed by Miracle Feet, at the rehab centre run by the SRCS with funding from the Norwegian Red Cross.

But even then, the struggle was not over. The first patient Osman remembers treating was a little boy whose father, who lived in an IDP camp, did not believe could be helped. HIs grandmother brought him to the centre.

“The father said, this is God’s punishment… but then we saw that he had corrected it and he said thank you very much, I was not aware it could be helped,” says Osman.

For children with club foot who are untreated, there is a huge stigma; often, they do not attend school, work, or live as part of normal society.

If you get disability in Somalia, it is like going to hell,” says Osman. “Even able-bodied, they are suffering. So if you are disabled, it’s worse.

It is a hell experienced by many. Miracle Feet estimates that there are 25,000 people in Somalia with untreated clubfoot, and 800 babies born annually with the condition.

One of them was the daughter of the watchman at the SCRC rehabilitation centre where Osman works.

His name is Mohamud Fiidow Mohamud, and his daughter – now 7 – is Farhio. She had surgery elsewhere, which was then corrected and her condition treated by Osman.

“I feel lucky I knew about this,” Mr Mohamud says. 

“This little girl, her mother passed away when she was 14 days old. Then I had the special worry about her case,” he adds. “But when I got her help, she is now walking, helping herself, and I am very proud.” 

Farhio herself beams into the camera.  

When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, she does not hesitate.

“I want to be a doctor,” she says. 

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Thursday, December 16, 2021

Mariam Noor: A Somali PhD student invents a ring for leaking heart valves

Read more »

Monday, December 6, 2021

Somaliland signs MoU with Chennai hospital

Read more »

Friday, November 19, 2021

As a nurse in Somalia, I know we need vaccines. Where are they?

In many ways, life as a nurse in Somalia is no different from the lives of millions of brave front-line workers across the world. We too care deeply about our patients, working tirelessly over the past two years despite nearly insurmountable challenges.

But where the differences do exist, they’re stark. And nowhere is this clearer to see than in the distribution of lifesaving oxygen, personal protective equipment (PPE), and vaccines during the pandemic.

In Somalia, the poverty rate is currently 73% and the average life expectancy is as low as 56. When COVID-19 hit, I was profoundly worried. I’ve been a nurse at Banadir Hospital, the country’s only maternal and child health hospital, for nearly six years. As the virus spread, we were inundated and overwhelmed. While working in difficult conditions and on scant resources is nothing new for many of us, this pandemic was different.

 Time and time again the main complaint we faced (and continue to face) was respiratory. Oxygen is vital to combat breathing difficulties that COVID-19 causes in seriously ill patients. They simply cannot survive without it.

Despite their best attempts, the Ministry of Health could only source oxygen from the few private plants in Somalia. To put this in context, a single patient can go through $1,200 of oxygen every 24 hours. Our stretched public health system could not keep up, and when the country’s oxygen supply ran dry, I had to turn deathly sick people away. We simply did not have the resources to care for them.

In late September 2021, the government put a cap on large gatherings, a sure sign that the virus is back. We feel this in the hospital too, as the beds in the COVID-19 ward are filling up.

Decades of civil war have left our public healthcare structures embryonic and fragile, and while positive steps (such as the new federal healthcare system) are moving in the right direction, access to medical services for the majority of Somalis is painfully out of reach.

In February 2021, the World Health Organisation estimated that more than half a million people in low- and middle-income countries were impacted by the need for oxygen treatment every single day. In Somalia, this problem persists. Ultimately, the international community has fallen short. Turkey and the WHO donated oxygen and other medical supplies, but they did not meet our massive needs.

The Somali private sector has filled some of the gap, sourcing oxygen cylinders from around the world. But relying on imports isn’t sustainable. The charity sector has also stepped up. Our country’s largest domestic NGO, Hormuud Salaam Foundation, recently fitted my hospital with Somalia’s first oxygen plant for public use. It provides the machinery to produce 1,000 cylinders of oxygen per week, each canister able to give a patient oxygen for around 8 hours. But even this is a temporary fix.

Only international governments hold the long-term solution to the pandemic in the form of access to vaccines. Like Israel, the US, and the UK begin providing third doses to their populations, it is hard not to feel abandoned. So far, global vaccine equity programmes have only delivered enough vaccines to inoculate 2% of Somalis. How is this equity?

I became a nurse to help those in need, but I also wanted to be a good role model. As a health professional in Somalia, making a difference to the next generation, I am lucky to be able to treat children and show them what opportunities there are, particularly for young girls.

But when I look at the vaccine disparity, I feel disheartened. To hear that more than 100 million vaccines are to be “thrown away”, unless global leaders urgently share surplus supplies with the world’s poorest countries, is a difficult pill to swallow.

The next wave is brewing. With the new oxygen plant, we are better prepared to hold the line this time, but without any vaccines forthcoming, millions of Somalis remain exposed. Just as many around the world in London, New York, and Wuhan stood on your doorsteps to applaud nurses in a time of crisis, I hope that the international community can support us during ours.

Deka Abdullahi Abukar

Deka Abdullahi Abukar is a nurse at Banadir Maternal and Child Health Hospital in Mogashidu, Somalia.