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Medical Care in Mogadishu Wins Hearts and Minds

by Thilaka Ravi on  December 3, 2009 at 2:19 PM General Health News   - G J E 4
Too weak to hide her disfigured face with her scarf, saliva dribbling from her atrophied mouth and blood seeping through her bandage, the woman lies in the peacekeepers' hospital next to Mogadishu airport.
  • Dhicisay Salat, 35, is disinfected at the field hospital of the base of the African Union peacekeeping force
  • Somali Muslimo Isak, 20, lies on a bed after delivering a baby a week ago at the AMISOM field hospital
  • A Somali nurse attends to a vomiting patient at the AMISOM field hospital
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Dhicisay Salat, 35, was selling khat to armed men on a market in the capital when "someone threw a grenade", explained her sister, who brought her to the base of the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, AMISOM.

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A grenade fragment shattered her jaw.

Alongside sick and wounded peacekeepers from the AMISOM force, this field hospital is also treating around 100 other patients, most of them war wounded like Salat.

The most serious cases can just show up at one of the entrances to the base, which are sandy tracks with Ugandan machine guns trained on them.

Less urgent cases can consult an AMISOM doctor at the base three times a week.

Currently hundreds of people are queueing up for treatment; some of them have been there since daybreak.

The most serious cases are escorted to the field hospital - a collection of big canvas tents housing lines of camp beds. Ugandan nurses in camouflage trousers and T-shirts, their hair hidden under a scarf, move from bed to bed.

The operating theatre has been set up in a container, the laboratory in a prefabricated unit. Two special wards house women suffering from suppurative inflammations.

"The majority of those we take in have bullet or shrapnel wounds," explained the military doctor, Colonel James Kiyengo. "Others have been wounded in road accidents or are suffering from serious illnesses."

Many of the male patients, grouped together in the same tent, are fighters.

"We even treat the Shebab (insurgents)," said Kiyengo, pointing to a smiling adolescent who has had his right leg amputated.

Then there are the patients with cancer in its terminal stages or other incurable diseases.

Twenty-year-old Muslimo Isak has an angelic face but her chest is deformed by ugly cancerous growths. A widow with no relatives, she has nowhere else to go.

"We take care of these hopeless cases like their neighbours would in the village," Kiyengo said.

Eleven Burundian and Ugandan military doctors work in the field hospital, where medical treatment is free. "Some patients come from a very long way away; AMISOM is their only hope," said Kiyengo.

"If you don't have money, you can't go to Medina," one of Mogadishu's three hospitals, said Ise Abdi, a patient whose thigh was half ripped away by a mortar bomb.

For AMISOM it's a case of trying to "win the hearts and minds" of Somalis, explained the spokesman of the force, Major Ba-Hoku Barigye.

"If the districts of town around the base are quiet, it's largely because of the medical care given by the force," said the military doctor.

These operations are also aimed at counter-balancing the devastating effects on Somali public opinion of the civilians killed by mortars fired by AMISOM in retaliation for insurgent attacks.

Unsurprisingly, Mogadishu's Islamist insurgents take a dim view of medical care administered by AMISOM, a force they have vowed to chase out of town.

Just a few days ago a man had his throat cut after he was found with a prescription written by an AMISOM doctor.

Source: AFP
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