© Reuters. Somali doctor Abdirizak Yusuf Ahmed speaks during an interview with Reuters in his office in Mogadishu
By Abdi Sheikh
MOGADISCHU (Reuters) – Somali doctor Abdirizak Yusuf Ahmed has escaped execution, has fought deadly diseases and has treated victims of war. Now, at 35, he was tapped to guide his nation's response to the corona virus.
So far, Somalia has reported only three cases. But if the disease is triggered, it could spread like wildfire to camps where malnourished families live, huddled under makeshift domes of sticks and rags.
Many of the 2.4 million Somalis who have been displaced by conflict and other disasters live in such camps. Of the 15 million inhabitants, around six million Somalis may not have enough to eat this year, the United Nations says, which weakens their immune systems and ability to survive the pandemic.
Islamist al-Shabaab insurgents also detain parts of southern Somalia, making it difficult for health workers to visit and making it impossible to conduct tests there.
"I have experienced wars, cholera and dysentery," Ahmed, tall and wearing glasses, told Reuters. "A doctor who fears for his life cannot save people. I have learned to forget worries and to save people instead."
Al Shabaab seized him a decade ago when he was trying to contain a cholera epidemic in their territory. They had seen a cross in his ambulance and – wrongly assuming he was a foreign spy – arrested him and his team. A phone call from a high-level contact saved their lives, he said.
There are currently only about 25 intensive care beds, 110 quarantine beds and 100 treatment beds available in Somalia, said Ahmed. More will be built. In the capital, patients from the old Italian maternity hospital Martini were moved out to make room for a new coronavirus center.
The sound of hammering echoes through the wide, tree-lined area as construction workers complete the repairs.
The Department of Health and the Prime Minister's Office have allocated approximately $ 11 million to prepare coronaviruses, Ahmed said. Spending is high – all medical devices are imported and corona virus tests are sent to Kenya for processing.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has trained 500 health workers in Somalia since January, said Dr. Mamunur Rahman Malik, the country representative of the organization.
The WHO also brought personal protective equipment to treat the first 300 or 400 cases, Malik added.
Ahmed's biggest concern is that the disease could spread very quickly. Somalia has a tradition of physical greeting, and even wealthy people are reluctant to quarantine outside the family.
Many, like Faduma Abdikadir, simply cannot isolate themselves.
The 38-year-old mother sleeps with her eight children under a tree in a makeshift camp in the capital, Mogadishu, after escaping country fights.
"Most of the time we use ash and sand to wash our hands. We're hungry. We ask people to buy water to drink and wash our hands," she said.
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