“In 30 years,” Dr. Deqo Mohamed said of the hospital her mother, Dr. Hawa Abdi, founded on her family’s ancestral land, “We went from a one-room clinic to a 400-bed hospital.”
Dr. Mohamed, chief executive officer, and Jasmine Lam, chief operating officer of the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation (DHAF) shared the foundation’s story and goals with Aatifa Sadiq, Zakat Foundation of America (ZF) programs coordinator for Asia and Africa, during a visit to ZF offices on April 7.
The Dr. Hawa Abdi General Hospital in Afgooye, Somalia, is the only source of free medical care in a 40-mile radius, serving a population of 124,000. Through a partnership with ZF the hospital has purchased antibiotics, anti-malarial and anti-parasitic medicines as well as IV fluids that have saved the lives of mothers and children.
But the hospital was not always seen as a place where one sought help. “It took a long time to break the social stigma around hospitals in the small, rural communities,” Dr. Mohamed said. “They thought of the hospital as a place you went to die.”
By the late 1980’s, she said, people began to accept the hospital and seek treatment there before they were beyond help. But in 1991 the Somali civil war brought new challenges.
An encampment near the hospital first housed a few hundred internally displaced people, but over time it has swelled to 90,000. DHAF expanded its attention to feeding, caring for and educating this growing community, and has gradually grown to cultivate longer-term programs such as sustainable farming initiatives, home-based soap production to meet the needs of the hospital, and local production of vitamin-fortified peanut butter to meet the nutritional requirements of the population.
For the future DHAF wants to install reliable refrigeration facilities at its hospital so that it can store and administer vaccines to reduce the alarming number of deaths and complications from polio and measles, as well as other preventable illnesses, in Somalia.
“If people know we have vaccines they will come to the clinic more frequently,” Dr. Mohamed said.
Dr. Mohamed also stressed the importance of training community health workers who can help with low-tech health practices such as hand-washing, quarantining of sick people, and simple interventions like rehydration drinks to prevent complications from diarrhea.
“The community health worker is the key to the whole country,” Dr. Mohamed said. “There are millions of people without access to health care, even more than current estimates because some villages are so remote that the people there were not counted. Community health workers can be there in the village and make a difference every day.”
Ms. Sadiq said ZF appreciates the unique value of partnering with home-grown organizations like DHAF. “At the end of the day, you know your society best,” Ms. Sadiq said. “An outsider can come in and say ‘do this,’ or ‘do that,’ but you know what really needs to be done and how to do it.”