Insights from Dr Abdullahi Hashi Ali, Director General of the Ministry of Health of Somalia

R:ED: Tell us about yourself, and why you are here at the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH)

My name is Dr Abdullahi Hashi Ali. I am the Director General of the Ministry of Health for the Government of Somalia. I have worked for the directorate for almost thirty years. So I think I have a little bit of experience.

I was invited to WISH to represent the Ministry of Health of Somalia. This is my first time here. I am excited to have an exchange of ideas with so many colleagues from different parts of the world.

R:ED: Tell us a little about the healthcare situation in Somalia, and if there are any initiatives that you are working on at the moment that you are particularly proud of.

The Somalian healthcare system has been in quite a unique situation. Ours is a country ravaged by civil war. In 2010 there was almost no health system at all – 80% of the population did not have access to basic health services. The Ministry of Health really had to start from scratch. Now at least we have a good primary health care system in place. I am very proud of the hard work and contribution of all the people who came before me.

I am also very proud of the exponential rise of health education in our country – we have so many institutions in place now. Especially midwifery schools, we are training so many midwives.

R:ED: Is that a priority of yours – training midwives?

Absolutely. Our priority number one, written in our health system strategy plan, is to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality [the rate of death of women giving birth and babies in their first month of life]. It is currently very high in Somalia. That is the one issue that the ministry right now is focusing on.

In 2010 the maternal mortality rate was 820 per 100,000. Now it is 731. We want to reduce it further. We believe one of the best ways to do this to train midwives. We want to break away from the traditional birth attendants and replace them with highly qualified midwives. Today we have over 1000 qualified midwives working around the country.

R:ED: What lessons have you learned from the healthcare systems of other African countries? Has cooperation with other African countries been key to your progress.

Definitely yes. Somalia is a part of many African organisations – we are part of almost every health organisation in Africa. We have been interacting with Kenya, with Ethiopia, with the South Sudan, and others, exchanging ideas. I think this has been tremendously important. Because when you start something, initially you don’t know what to do. You are always asking yourself – what will happen if we do this, where will we go. You have to learn from people who are working in the field. Somalia was like that. I think every country can benefit from trying to learn from others. You start from somewhere, and you try to move forwards, bit by bit.

R:ED: Is there anything that you think other countries could learn from the Somalian health care system?

There is always something to learn. I cannot pinpoint one specific thing for you now and say this is where they should learn from Somalia. But there must be so many things people can learn from a country that started it’s healthcare system from scratch.

Perhaps the example of Somalia would be most useful is to countries who are suffering with conflict right now. There are so many conflicts in the world. But Somalia is a case in point, that health professionals should not give up, and say that we cannot continue just because bombs are falling everywhere. In our country, the whole system, everything collapsed during the civil war. It is only in the last ten years that we have managed to rebuild a little. So I would say to others who are in conflict areas to not give up, but to continue trying to strengthen their healthcare system.

R:ED: Do you have a message for the young people of Somalia?

I do have a message for the young Somali generation of health professionals. There are so many health problems in Somalia, and there is so much work to be done. I would say to these young health professionals, that they should not initially be looking for profit. They should start by trying to help their own people. When you work in healthcare, and every day you see that you are helping poor people, or vulnerable groups, it’s very gratifying. We are making progress with our health system.

I feel that the most important thing we have in Somalia is our resilience. Somalians I think are the most resilient people in the world. Look at what we have been through – years of civil war, and yet we are still here. I always say, I am very proud of our resilience.

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