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The doctors of Mogadishu

Appeared in "Geo", 2006

Von Autor Philipp Maußhardt

After 20 years of anarchy, Mogadishu is divided into zones controlled by rival militias. A handful of Somali doctors gave up their jobs overseas to open a hospital in one of the world’s most dangerous cities.

The bullet in Abdil Mohamed’s neck wasn’t meant for him. The ten-year-old had been playing ball in his family’s yard when he collapsed. Now he lies motionless in Room 7 at Hayat Hospital in Mogadishu. Two doctors carefully unwrap the bandage. Abdirahman Ahmed, chief surgeon, says, “A miracle.” The bullet passed between the carotid artery and the jugular vein, scraped the esophagus and trachea, missed the spine completely, and exited on the other side without expanding. “He’ll be fine,” he tells the child’s mother. She cries.

Tears of relief, but also of despair. The yard is no longer safe, and even hiding indoors isn’t enough. Machine gun bullets are not slowed by walls of adobe and corrugated tin.

Faduma Haran, two beds away, was preparing lunch this morning when a bullet came through the wall and hit her in the thigh. Her operation is scheduled for this afternoon. The doctors are busy. She is one of 14 patients brought in so far today. The hospital’s 150 beds are all in use. Last year the surgeons removed 846 bullets, mostly from women and children. Not that bullet wounds are the greatest risk in Mogadishu. More patients have typhoid, malaria, or dysentery. Elderly people are rare here. Average life expectancy is 46 and infant mortality is 25 percent.

The city has 1.3 million inhabitants and three hospitals. Hayat, founded seven years ago, is the newest. Treatment there is not free. Each patient pays $1.50. Those who have nothing can come to the free clinic on Friday mornings. Members of all warring clans receive equal treatment, but they must check their weapons at the door.

The hospital is supported by Daryeel Bulsho Guud (DBG), “Help For All.” With financial and logistical help from overseas, it is one of the country’s few functioning institutions, taking care of everything from nursing schools to chemical spills ….