The De Martino Hospital is the main referral hospital in Mogadishu for treating COVID-19 patients. The hospital has made an appeal for urgent help to support hospital staff during the COVID-19 crisis.
#SomaliaResponds is a movement for diaspora communities to support COVID-19 response and recovery efforts in Somalia.
Somalia’s Ministry of Health and Human Services and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are coming together to raise funds to provide life-saving support and prevent a public health crisis in Somalia.
TOGETHER WE CAN FIGHT COVID-19 IN SOMALIA
Together, we can support the hospital to prepare and respond to the escalating health care needs.
Somalia, like many other countries, is facing an unprecedented challenge in meeting the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare workers at De Martino Hospital, the country’s main public hospital designated for treating COVID-19 patients, do not have the adequate equipment and supplies to treat patients and keep themselves safe.
“Every day we serve 120 -150 patients and provide them with health services free of charge including one month of any necessary medicine. The international community and Somali people living overseas can have a critical role in the mitigation of COVID-19 in Somalia,” says Dr Abdiaziz Ali Mohamed, Director of De Martino Hospital and Migration for Development in Africa (MIDA) expert who returned to Somalia in 2018.
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This interview was conducted at the beginning of April 2020 when there were only a few confirmed COVID-19 cases in Somalia. By the beginning of May, the number of confirmed cases have reached more than a thousand. At the end of April, Dr Abdiaziz returned to the United Kingdom, where he continues his advocacy work supporting the Somali health system. He plans to return to Somalia when travel bans are lifted.
“Can you just imagine COVID-19 gaining a foothold in Somalia?” asks Dr Abdiaziz Ali Mohamed, “Even countries with the most advanced medical systems in the world are struggling to find enough ventilators, masks and PPE,” he adds. Dr Abdiaziz, one of the few infectious disease doctors in Somalia, is an IOM Migration for Development in Africa (MIDA) FINNSOM diaspora health expert and the Director of the De Martino Hospital in Mogadishu. He paints a grim picture of the capacity of the health system to cope with a serious outbreak of COVID-19. “In Somalia, there are no mechanized ventilators and we only have 31 ICU beds for the entire population,” he says. For a country with a population of 15 million – that's not enough.
The De Martino Hospital is the main referral hospital in Mogadishu for the treatment of COVID-19 patients. The Hospital has appealed for urgent help to support the staff during the COVID-19 crisis.
Decades of civil war have devastated Somalia’s health system and left many people, especially displaced individuals, without access to basic health care. You can hear the urgency in Dr Abdiaziz voice as he pleads, "The Somali healthcare system has many weaknesses, and will not be able to withstand the pressures that will come with the increase in COVID-19 cases."
Across the country there are an estimated 50 hospitals, with 10 located in Mogadishu; but only ten of these hospitals have ICU beds. There are also only four to five infectious disease doctors in the whole country. This means that all medical personnel in Somalia need rigorous training to prepare for COVID-19. At De Martino Hospital, 12 doctors and 16 nurses have received daily and weekly sessions, from Dr Abdiaziz and other experts, including the World Health Organization (WHO) on treating patients with the novel coronavirus. “These doctors have received a lot of theoretical training about how to treat and manage COVID-19 cases, but at the end of the day if the patient has respiratory failure, medical workers will have no options for treatment due to limited equipment in the country.”
This is part of what makes COVID-19 prevention and treatment needs so critical for De Martino Hospital. Every single donation, every single piece of equipment or protective material provided to this hospital has a direct impact on some of the most at-risk populations in Somalia. By helping this hospital, Dr Abdiaziz knows that this will elevate the fight against this dangerous virus and give individuals a fighting chance for survival.
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at risk
The biggest fear is if the virus arrives in informal settlements where internally displaced persons (IDPs) live in densely populated sites, often without access to water or nearby health facilities. “If COVID-19 arrives to populations in displaced settlements, we are finished. They are working in the city in basic service jobs such as cleaners, waiters, cooks – the infection would spread quickly, and everywhere,” says Dr Abdiaziz.
The humanitarian community estimates that there are 2.6 million IDPs living in approximately 2,000 different IDP sites across Somalia. COVID-19 can have devastating consequences for these communities. Lack of information, an already stretched and sometimes inaccessible health system, poor sanitation and overcrowded settlements could mean more severe transmission rates of the virus.
According to Ewa Naqvi, Deputy Chief of Mission for IOM Somalia, “Looking at the global trend, Somalia is at a critical point right now to prevent the virus from spreading nationwide. We must act now to ensure that the public is aware of the risks, symptoms, and countermeasures for COVID-19, and that the health facilities are equipped to deal with the pressure that will arise from increasing cases. IOM is sending personal protection equipment (PPE) to the health facilities near displacement sites, among other measures, but we need more support from our partners.”
COVID-19 arrives to Somalia
As of 6 May, more than eight hundred individuals have tested positive for the COVID-19 in Somalia since the first case was reported on March 16. To prevent the virus from making a deadly inroad, the Ministry of Health has established a COVID-19 health taskforce in coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO).
Dr Abdiaziz is part of this taskforce that is taking quick and decisive steps to help mitigate the spread of the virus. The needs are great and immediate action is needed. According to Dr Abdiaziz, “We need mechanical ventilators, ICU beds, PPEs, essential medications such as antibiotics and antivirals that we don’t have.”
Without taking precautionary measures, the country could lose over 30,000 individuals to the virus and this is only an estimate from the health authorities. Perhaps even more concerning is the lack of test kits in general. Without tests, it will be impossible to monitor and control the disease. “We need a lot of kits and we need them now, these kits could save many lives,” Dr Abdiaziz urges.
In mid-March 2020, De Martino Hospital was designated as the main hospital to treat COVID-19 cases. Just over a year earlier, in January 2019, Dr Abdiaziz was appointed by the Minister of Health and Human Services to become Director at the hospital. His many years of experience as an infectious disease doctor abroad was what the hospital needed. “Every day we serve 120-150 patients and provide them with health services free of charge, including one month of any necessary medicine,” he says. The building is located close to a large IDP settlement in Mogadishu and it provides health care to vulnerable populations. “Years ago, hospitals in Somalia were only accessible for those in the middle class. I am so proud to be leading this free hospital and providing help to the most vulnerable populations.”
A doctor’s journey
Poised at the precipice of a crisis, Dr Abdiaziz’s journey to becoming Director at the hospital is nothing short of remarkable. Born and raised in the north of Somalia, he enrolled in the University of Medicine in Mogadishu in 1989, but during his second year of study civil war broke out in the country.
Dr Abdiaziz moved to Italy and was quickly able to enrol in the Medical School of Tuscany where he finished his studies and specialized in infectious diseases. “It was always my dream to return to Somalia as a doctor. In Somalia, the main health problem is infectious disease, whether paediatric, skin, TB, hepatitis or HIV.”
Dr Abdiaziz’s journey continued with his move to London in 2006 to join his wife and children. There he worked as an infectious disease doctor at University College London Hospital until 2017. However, one night shifted the course of his life. “I saw an advertisement for the IOM Migration for Development in Africa (MIDA) FINNSOM programme at the hospital where I worked. During the night shift, I decided to find more details about working as a doctor in Somalia.” A few interviews and a pile of paperwork later, Dr Abdiaziz was on his way home after 27 years away.
Dr Abdiaziz decided to return to Somalia to contribute his skills in the health sector of the country. But nothing could have prepared him for the arrival of COVID-19. He calls it, “perhaps the most dangerous infectious disease we have ever seen.”
The role of the international community
According to Dr Abdiaziz, the international community and Somalis living overseas can have a critical role to play in mitigating COVID-19 in Somalia. “They can help our country – we need test kits, masks, gloves, cleaning materials, PPEs, mechanical ventilators, PPEs, ICUs, and we need them now. We need actions to save lives.”
Every one of us has a role to play in stopping the spread of COVID-19. Viruses cannot be reasoned with, they do not discriminate; they spread and infect, cause fear and suffering, and at the end of the day at-risk populations such as IDPs and those living in cramped unhygienic conditions will bear the brunt of the suffering. Somalia needs all of us; you, me, your family, or friends to show solidarity in this fight.
IOM MIDA Programme
IOM MIDA Programme Dr Abdiaziz returned to Somalia in 2018 to work as a doctor thanks to the IOM MIDA FINNSOM Programme funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland.
The MIDA FINNSOM programme supports Somalia to develop its health and education sectors through the deployment of diaspora experts of Somali origin. It comes under the Migration for Development in Africa (MIDA) programme, a capacity-building initiative implemented by IOM to strengthen the institutional capacities of African governments to manage and realize their development goals through the transfer of knowledge, relevant skills and financial resources of African diaspora members. The MIDA initiative started in Somalia in 2008 with the first diaspora experts deployed in 2009.
Donations will support the De Martino Hospital and other health facilities responding to COVID-19 in Somalia with the following items:
- Laboratory equipment
- COVID-19 testing equipment and accessories
- Personal Protective Equipment
- Biomedical Equipment for COVID-19 Case Management (ventilators, oxygen concentrators and others)
- Human resources