Hargeisa — The opening of the first hospital specialising in paediatric illnesses in Hargeisa bodes well for Somalia, which has the worst child mortality rate in the world according to the United Nations.
The paediatric clinic at the Mohamed Aden Sheikh Children's Teaching Hospital opened January 26th, bringing free specialised paediatric treatement to the region for the first time.
The opening ceremony was attended by Somaliland Minister of Health Hussein Mohamud Mohamed, first lady Amina-Weris Sheikh Mohamud Jirde, Speaker of Parliament Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi, Minister of Planning Saad Haji Ali Shire, officials from the University of Hargeisa and a delegation from Onlus Somalia Association, a non-profit organisation Sheikh founded in Turin, Italy, in 2002.
A lifelong dream
"Before his death, [Sheikh] had long hoped to build a hospital in Mogadishu, but since the conflict did not recede there, he opted to implement it in Hargeisa," Mohamed said at the opening ceremony. "Even though he died, his idea survived and will endure."
Sheikh, originally from southern Somalia, had been the minister of health and the minister of culture and higher education under the Siad Barre regime, before being elected to parliament in 1980. In 1982, he was arrested for allegedly conspiring against the government of Siad Barre and was jailed until 1989, when he moved to Italy where he spent the rest of his life.
After Sheikh's death in 2010, his wife Felicita Torrielli and his friends from Turin raised funds to establish the hospital, and construction started in September 2011. Their efforts were supported by companies and agencies in Italy, Mohamed said.
Although the paediatric clinic has been opened, the hospital is still under construction and is expected to be completed in March.
"The tremendous need prompted the offering of services before construction was completed, and all the services it offers are free of charge," said Somaliland Deputy Minister of Health Nimo Hussein Ghawdan.
"I believe that it will have a big impact on the provision of healthcare services," she told Sabahi, adding that 60 to 70 children can be treated daily in the clinic.
Onlus Somalia Association will provide funding for the hospital for three years and plans to establish a governing committee, Ghawdan said.
Since its opening, 350 children have been admitted or treated, according to the hospital's manager Abdi Mohamud.
"Patients are accepted between 7:00 am and 12:00 pm, but those in critical conditions are accepted any time," he told Sabahi. The hospital is on a 24-hour schedule with medical and support staff available overnight, he said.
The hospital is being built on 12,500 square metres of land gifted by the Somaliland administration, and is adjacent to Hargeisa General Hospital, formerly Jajabka Hospital. The entire building will cost more than 1 million euros ($1.4 million) to complete, according to the hospital's website.
Rejuvenating the healthcare sector
The Mohamed Aden Sheikh Children's Teaching Hospital will help relieve the burden on the Hargeisa General Hospital, which was built by the British 50 years ago. At the time, Hargeisa had fewer than 50,000 residents, while today it has 1 million, the health minister said.
The hospital will also address serious medical conditions, especially paediatric illnesses, Mohamed said, adding that he expects the mix of local and Italian staff to create new ideas for the healthcare sector in Somaliland.
"This will change the system of healthcare provision, which seems to be suffering, and we hope it will rejuvenate the entire healthcare system and restore its value," he said.
The hospital will also be the first teaching facility of its kind in Somaliland, giving medical students an opportunity to receive specialised technical training.
Mustafe Osman, a 24-year-old medical student at the University of Hargeisa's college of medicine, said he is happy that he will have access to the clinical training site.
"Although the college has an educational partnership with King's College Hospital in London, students who attend the University of Hargeisa are in need of more hands-on clinical training," he told Sabahi.
Osman, who wants to specialise in paediatrics, said he plans to receive his specialised training at the Mohamed Aden Sheikh Children's Teaching Hospital in the next three years while completing college courses.
Treating more children, training doctors
Amina Ahmed, a mother of five, told Sabahi the new hospital would help her save money since she was compelled to take her children to private clinics in the city.
"If children are suffering from non-life threatening illnesses like colds or aches and you take them to the private clinics, it is possible the visit, tests and medicine will cost as much as $80," she said.
Despite the high prices, families struggling economically regularly use private facilities because the public health system in Somaliland has been inadequate or of low quality, she said.
Somalia has the highest child mortality rate in the world, according to the United Nations. For every 1,000 live births in 2010, 180 children died before the age of five.
"Children that had certain illnesses, like cancer, did not have a place for treatment and often died due to lack of medical care," said Dr. Mariam Abdullahi Dahir, a physician at Hargeisa General Hospital.
"It is good progress for the public to have a [clinic] specialising in paediatrics available free of charge, one that can also provide excellent medical care and treatments," she told Sabahi. "It is an added advantage that the centre will help train local doctors that specialise in paediatric diseases."