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SOMALIA: Bomb survivors tend to IDPs

NAIROBI, 8 February 2010 (IRIN) - A bomb explosion was the last thing Abdiqani Sheikh Omar, 26, expected on his graduation day, after six years of studying medicine at Somalia's Benadir University in the capital, Mogadishu.

"It was a beautiful day, not too hot and [with] a very blue, clear sky," Omar told IRIN on 8 February. “I was so excited that I could not sleep the night before; I wanted it to be morning so I could graduate and celebrate with my friends. We had gone through six years of very hard work and times."

Halfway through the ceremony on 3 December 2009, a blast ripped through the venue, killing students, lecturers and guests. The suicide bomber was said to be allied to the Islamist Al-Shabab group although Al-Shabab later denied responsibility.

Survivors’ network

Several graduates who survived the blast vowed to continue the work of their dead colleagues. "On that day they killed our friends and professors but not our spirits," said Omar.

The surviving graduates, along with others who graduated from colleges in Sudan and Yemen, formed the Somali Young Doctors’ Association (SOYDA) and have since started delivering healthcare to thousands of people who would otherwise have none.

Abdirizaq Yusuf, a member of SOYDA, said: “We have decided that once a week we will visit the camps for the displaced around the city [Mogadishu.] We started on Friday [3 December] with the Lafoole IDP camps.”

Yusuf said they were doing the voluntary work for three reasons. “First, it is in remembrance of our fallen friends and professors; it is also a way of telling those behind the attack that we will continue no matter what, and thirdly, our people need our help.”

He said the people they helped were least likely to have access to healthcare. “They are either too poor to go to doctors and hospitals or too weak to go anywhere.”

On their first visit, Yusuf said, 10 doctors, accompanied by nurses and technicians, treated at least 400 people. Yusuf said their aim was to visit the entire displaced population - in and out of the city.

Too poor

Dahabo Hassan, 40, a displaced mother of six, was one of those who benefited from the doctors’ visit. She told IRIN three of her children were sick but she could not take them to hospital or to see a doctor.

“I cannot afford to take them to a doctor; I don’t even have the bus fare to the hospitals in Mogadishu,” she said.

She said many people in the Hilaal camp near the town of Afgoye, 300km south of Mogadishu and home to some 580 families, were like her. “I don’t know of anyone who can afford a doctor,” she said, adding: “I hope they continue coming.”

Omar said of the 400 patients they saw, most were children.

“Most of the children under five were suffering from respiratory tract infections and malnutrition, while those between five and 15 were suffering mainly from skin diseases, due to the terrible sanitation and hygiene conditions in the camps," Omar said. “Most adults we saw were suffering from hypertension, diabetes and urinary tract infections."

The displaced were living in appalling conditions, he said. "They [camps] are overcrowded, with very little water." Food, especially for small children, was another problem.

Omar said there were no aid agencies on the ground due to insecurity. "It is a very difficult environment," he said.

He said SOYDA would not be deterred and would continue its work.

"I had a very good professor, Dr Shahid [who died in the blast] who taught me perseverance; he never left Mogadishu when others went to safer and greener pastures. We all want to follow his example."

Omar said other Somalis, especially those in the diaspora, were welcome to join their group "in any capacity. This is about helping people, it does not matter where you are."

Related story: Sakhaudin Ahmed, "my happiest day turned into a nightmare"


Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Health & Nutrition


Copyright © IRIN 2010
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.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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