Maryan Maalin looks up at a nurse as he reads her mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC). CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Mohamed Abdikarim
The families seemed to appear out of nowhere. Death and disease stalk the rural residents in this remote and lonely village, giving this drought-hit region a quiet, ghost-like feel.
On Wednesdays, though, the mobile health team arrives. Ceel-Qorrah village sees a burst of activity: mothers with children in tow begin streaming in, and once the van bearing the Red Crescent symbol pulls up, the work begins.
The fight against malnutrition and disease is pressing in the small, thirsty villages of Somalia. With the help of the Somali Red Crescent Society (SRCS), mobile teams are being deployed to communities cut off from basic health care due to conflict, disaster and distance.
Ceel-Qorrah in southern Galgaduud region is one of those villages. Drought has laid waste to livestock and threatened the way of life of pastoral communities. The villages the mobile health teams visit are up to 100 kilometres from the nearest larger towns.
"The villages we work in are far, far away," said Dalmar, the head nurse of the SRCS mobile health team operating in the area. "There is no other health service other than the one offered by the Red Crescent."
The team of six nurses in distinctive red coats unload their equipment next to a tree and inside makeshift houses made of woven sticks and polythene roofing. Nurses take the weight and height of the children, checking for malnutrition, while mothers collect the family's weekly ration of high-calorie, vitamin-packed biscuits. The cries of children receiving vaccines fill the air, while the midwife station provides antenatal and postnatal care. The more serious health needs are referred to the nearest SRCS clinic, three hours away by car.
We are one and the same
The whole village feels alive as residents and surrounding villages congregate. The Somali Red Crescent team draws its volunteer staff from the region, adding to the sense of community pride.
"Everywhere we go, we are going to our Somali people who we help," said Dalmar. "And they welcome us and give us room to work in. The people are our people. We are one and the same. We are no different."
Ishaaq Moalim, one of the nurses of the SRCS mobile health team, shares a light moment with the women as he registers children for vaccination. CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Mohamed Abdikarim
The SRCS, with support from the ICRC, operates 11 mobile clinics in southern and central Somalia. Six began operations this year as part of the scaled-up drought response. The mobile clinics also double as barometers of alarming malnutrition levels and disease outbreaks like cholera, likely occurrences during the prevailing parched conditions.
The ICRC also supports 20 SRCS clinics in southern and central Somalia, as well as four hospitals – two in Mogadishu, one in Kismayo and another in Baidoa. The ICRC benefits from a strong partnership with the SRCS in making health care accessible given the SRCS's network of volunteers and staff across the country.
"Somalis share a strong tradition and roots, therefore everywhere we go we are well received," said Dalmar, adding: "And for us, any service we can provide to them, we provide.
With the Gu rains (April - June) generally poor, the rural communities now confront months of uncertainty – a familiar prospect for them – as they wait for October's rains. Though their needs remain enormous, access to health is one less problem to contend with today.