A member of the medical staff at Keysaney Hospital points to the Somalia Red Crescent branding that patients see when they arrive at the hospital. CC BY-NC-ND/ICRC/Pedram Yazdi
Dr Ahmed Mohamed began working at Keysaney hospital in Mogadishu in 1992, a year after the fall of the Siad Barre regime ushered in a period of civil war in Somalia. The hospital, run by the Somali Red Crescent Society, has assisted many thousands of patients wounded in armed conflict.
In his 23 years at the hospital, Dr Ahmed Mohamed – alias Dr Tajir – now 56, has risen to the rank of Chief Surgeon and become synonymous with the hospital. The persistent fighting of the mid-1990s has subsided but there is lingering conflict in parts of Somalia, including sporadic gunfire, attacks and car bombs in Mogadishu, with many of the resulting victims being treated at Keysaney. In honour of World Red Cross Day on 8 May, Dr Tajir spared some time to tell us about himself.
What made you become a surgeon?
As a young boy, I always had the passion to be the greatest. Being born into a nomad family, I was fortunate to have parents who supported my education. One memorable moment of my childhood years is visiting a relative in hospital who had suffered gunshot wounds. Despite the doctor's efforts, he succumbed to his injuries. This sad scenario gave me the motivation to study medicine. I was determined to be a good surgeon and save lives. Somalia needed doctors with an understanding of the people and culture.
Dr Ahmed Mohamed, alias Tajir, Chief Surgeon of Keysaney Hospital, operating on a weapon-wounded patient. CC BY-NC-ND/ICRC/Pedram Yazdi
Two decades of service is a long time. What keeps you going?
The spate of attacks and bombings in Somalia has left thousands wounded and in dire need of medical help. There was a shortage of medical doctors and I chose to remain behind and serve the community. The faces of patients who stream into Keysaney hospital are my driving force. They keep me strong and focused as I want to play a part in changing their lives.
The Somali Red Crescent Society (SRCS) has been supporting the hospital for the last 23 years. What is your take on this?
With so many years working in this hospital, I feel more of a SRCS staff member than anything else. The organization aims to alleviate suffering of the people by providing free, quality health care. The SRCS has enabled the hospital to work independently, serving all communities irrespective of their clan, religion or political affiliations.
Dr Ahmed Mohamed, alias Tajir, examines a baby on his daily ward round. CC BY-NC-ND/ICRC/Pedram Yazdi
How do you balance family life with your busy profession?
My family supports me in the work that I do. They have been behind me for the last 25 years and any success attributed to me is derived through their support. When at the hospital I am a doctor, while at home I am a father, an uncle and a husband.
What do you take pride in most after all these years?
I have had several success stories with patients but one that moved me most was saving the life of an expectant woman who had gunshot wounds around her waist. The foetus could not be saved, but fortunately the mother survived and got her second chance at life. Today she operates a shop in town and I am humbled whenever I see her actively engaged in her day-to-day activities.
Keysaney Hospital's operating theatre is a very busy room that is frequently occupied with weapon-wounded patients like the one pictured here. CC BY-NC-ND/ICRC/Pedram Yazdi
With security an issue, how does the hospital stay operational with the constant fear of attacks?
We see hardly any incidents at the hospital as we are neutral and impartial. We are here to provide medical aid to those in need regardless of their affiliations. This position has enabled us to remain operational given the situation. Everyone knows Keysaney hospital belongs to the Somali community and is run by an independent body.
What are your greatest challenges?
Most challenges are related to our emergency response capacity. We are short of qualified surgeons and our blood stock levels are very low. We see a lot of patients who require both and this proves challenging. Despite the shortcomings, we try our best to respond to emergencies and save lives.
The laboratory and blood bank section of Keysaney Hospital. The hospital treated 1,314 children under the age of 10 as outpatients in 2014. What's more, 30 children wounded by weapons were admitted during the same period. CC BY-NC-ND/ICRC/Pedram Yazdi
Keysaney hospital facts & figures
Since 1992, the hospital has admitted nearly 180,000 patients and assisted more than 84,000 weapon-wounded patients. The new surgical operating theatre built by the ICRC in 2014 has improved the facility's capacity to respond to emergencies.
In 2014, Keysaney hospital:
- admitted 555 weapon wounded patients
- admitted a total of 2,633 patients
- carried out 2,081 surgical operations
- admitted 5,795 people to its emergency department
- handled 6,272 outpatient appointments.
Keysaney Hospital medical X-ray staff attend to a child. CC BY-NC-ND/ICRC/Pedram Yazdi
All photos: CC BY-NC-ND/ICRC/Pedram Yazdi