May 18 2004
SOS Emergency Clinic temporarily closed in Somalia
18/05/2004 - The SOS Emergency Clinic in Mogadishu, the only hospital in the Somali capital which provides free medical treatment to the Somali population, has been forced to temporarily halt all medical services after all attempts to resolve demands for compensation from the relatives of a former patient fell through.
SOS Children's Villages Somalia reluctantly took the decision to close the hospital on Saturday 15 May due to fears for the safety of its medical staff and concerns for the continued viability of its medical programme arising from the continued standoff.
The demands for compensation were received from the family of a female patient after doctors at the hospital performed a life-saving hysterectomy three weeks ago. The patient has since made a good recovery and is in good health. Relatives are demanding compensation because she can no longer bear children. In the prevailing climate of insecurity and lawlessness in Somalia, such disputes frequently escalate to crisis levels, with the potential for kidnappings or attacks on staff.
The Islamic Court in Mogadishu has offered to intervene and hear the case but the family has so far refused its involvement. Local community leaders, including religious leaders and elders, are continuing to mediate, but their efforts have so far been fruitless. Members of the community are strongly supportive of SOS' stance, and have held demonstrations to call for a speedy solution to the dispute and the re-opening of the hospital.
"In previous cases, when our facilities or staff have been under threat, the local community has always been involved in finding a solution," said Willy Huber, the Regional Director of SOS Children's Villages in East Africa, "I am confident that the situation will soon be resolved and that the hospital will reopen."
The SOS Clinic is part of a large-scale medical emergency relief and food programme in Mogadishu, which was started shortly after the outbreak of civil war in 1990. For many years, SOS Children's Villages was one of few international relief organisations working in the war-torn south of the country.
Originally intended as an emergency six-month humanitarian aid action, SOS Children's Villages extended the relief and food programme due to the continuing insecurity and the lack of state-run hospitals in Somalia. In the early 1990s, most doctors fled the country causing a critical shortage of qualified staff.
The SOS Mother and Child Clinic in Mogadishu remains the only functioning maternity ward and gynaecological care facility in Somalia. Pregnant women and mothers with their children from all over Somalia often walk for days to reach the clinic, which provides some 260,000 treatments per year and has a paediatric unit that has saved and improved the lives of over 111,000 children per year.
The humanitarian aid office of the European Union, ECHO, is providing medical supplies, fuel and other equipment for the clinic, while SOS Children's Villages has also partnered with UNICEF to carry out a major vaccination programme. The WHO (World Health Organisation) is helping SOS Children's Villages fund a TB vaccination programme that has cured up to 600 children per year.
SOS Children's Villages is also engaged in a major food programme in cooperation with the WFP (World Food Programme). Some 15,000 food packages containing, among others, oil, milk, flour, sugar and maize, are distributed to families in need on a weekly basis.
The organisation is also providing family-based care for 120 children at its children's village in Mogadishu, which was inaugurated in December 1985 alongside an adjoining kindergarten. In the following years, a school for primary and secondary education was opened, as was a youth facility and a vocational training centre, which offers a three-year state-approved training course for nurses and midwives.