The humanitarian crisis in Somalia, in the Horn of Africa, was major headline news last year. Although media attention has faded, Somalia remains in the grip of a major humanitarian crisis. This is strikingly clear from the reports of the patients and staff of international medical and humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). They continue daily battles to save lives in areas where violence, disease and malnutrition continue to threaten the lives and well-being of tens of thousands.
Abdirasak Sheikh Abdiwahab works in MSF’s feeding centre for severely malnourished children in the port city of Kismayo, in southern Somalia. “The cases are many, as you may understand there is no public or big hospital here. We work from a small rented building where we are based looking after cases of young malnourished children. The numbers we have is usually between 80 and 120.”
The treatment centre in Kismayo attracts people from a wide radius, sometimes over sixty kilometres. The mother of one patient, who preferred not to be mentioned by name, comes from Kismayo, but had to flee the town years ago due to the Somalia civil war.
“First I used to live in Kismayu then I moved to Hagardheera the camp [for displaced people]. I was there for a period of 8 months then my son who is 12 months old fell very sick. He was very ill, then I came back to Kismayu. When I got back to Kismayu I was told an MSF hospital has opened where young children are treated so I brought him here.”
“We’ve been here in the hospital for 17 days. Good service is not in short supply. At night, staff wake up my son for milk at different time intervals. Every time they check his condition. They control his fever. If he’s having diarrhoea they give him medication. There is non-stop care and attention.”
“I came by vehicle where I paid fares. [In] Hagardheer [the situation] is not better than here. Even if you have a disease you are told you are okay, because staff aren’t bothered to treat you. Here there are staff that have compassion. They look after my son day and night control and checking his condition. They weigh him every morning and give him milk.”
Back home in her village, the health needs are clearly very high. “The cars go out to collect patients from everywhere,” she said. “Patients are put on the side of the road where they can be picked up. This organisation is greatly helping the people who are in real need.”
Elsewhere in Somalia, the situation is not much different. Around the village of Guri El, for example, the health condition of people has been eroded due to months of lack of food. Dr. Faiza Adam Abdirahman works in a hospital of Medecins Sans Frontieres in Guri El.
“What happened few days ago was that the people who live in the outside villages had a bit of rainfall and as you know they were weak and most had malnutrition so when the rains came there was outbreak of diseases like measles and malaria. So we were receiving many people from outside villages.”
“That time the hospital was filled everywhere was full and we were over capacity, it was difficult to manage,”he continued. “We have a capacity of forty, but we had as much as 160 children. They were all very weak. They came to us with high fever and we were giving them vitamin A and those with nutritional problems we treated them according and those that needed transfusion we gave them transfusion. On top of measles most also have other infections like pneumonia which we treated them for.”
Back in Kismayo, measles has also started to spread with the onset of the rainy season.
“Currently we are treating measles cases and we treat all measles cases no matter the age,” said Abdirisak. “But the malnutrition are [all] under 5 years, so we treat only the severe cases as we can’t take all malnutrition cases.”
The despair is echoed by a woman in MSF’s project in Kismayo: “I come from Goobay and I came here with 5 children. Goobay is not near Kismayu. I walked for a whole night to get here. At first one had measles then it spread to all of them. We’ve been in the hospital for 12 days. When I brought them here they couldn’t walk but now they are okay.”
In the period from May to December 2011, MSF was running 22 projects in many different parts of Somalia and in refugee camps for Somalis in Ethiopia and Kenya. In this period, covering the height of the crisis, the medical organisation treated over 78,500 patients for severe malnutrition and over 30,000 for moderate malnutrition, over 7,200 patients for measles and vaccinated over 255,000 persons against disease in the Horn of Africa. MSF assisted in over 6,000 deliveries and provided over 537,500 out-patient consultations. The war in Somalia is now going into its 21st year. After the drought and the enormous crisis of last year, people survive and live from hand to mouth, and are still highly vulnerable to infections, disease and malnourishment.