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Somalia: surgeons hone their war-surgery skills

28-04-2009 Feature

Treating war-wounded casualties in large numbers is never easy. After more than a decade of fighting, Somalia has limited hospital facilities and the country’s experienced surgeons have little time to train others. The ICRC recently helped fill the training gap with a war surgery seminar in Mogadishu, as Nicole Engelbrecht reports.


  ©ICRC/P. Yazdi/V-P-SO-E-00316    
  Surgeons at Keysaney Hospital, Mogadishu, removing shrapnel from a man injured while fleeing fighting    

" Many doctors and surgeons have left the country,” said ICRC surgeon Mauro Dalla Torre. " And the ones that have stayed are very busy treating patients. They often lack the time to tutor medical students and there is a lack of systematic training. Our semin ar aimed to help fill that gap and to provide a platform for discussing war surgery. "

From 7 to 9 April, an ICRC medical team shared its experience in such fields as wound management, surgery and amputation techniques, transportation of patients, casualty management and triage with 23 Somali doctors and nurses.

" Treating wounds caused by bullets, mines and shrapnel calls for highly specific skills, " explained ICRC surgeon Valery Sasin, who coordinates the organization's health activities in Somalia. " If a surgeon is to save the life of a war-wounded patient, he must know just how to deal with these types of wound. "

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991 and for decades the country has been plagued by fighting and suffering. Insecurity and violence have driven millions of people from their homes. Thousands of civilians have been killed. In 2008, the hospitals of Mogadishu alone treated over 3,000 casualties of the conflict. Almost a third were either women or children under 15.

Coping with an influx of weapon-wounded patients would be a challenge for a hospital anywhere in the world. Even in the best health systems, staff must make difficult decisions as to who has first call on precious surgical time and resources. In Somalia, the health system collapsed in the aftermath of the civil war and there are few qualified doctors, making the challenge that much greater.

" Dealing with war casualties requires a special kind of knowledge,” said Hussein Abdi, a doctor at Keysaney Hospital in Mogadishu. " We are doing all we can to save lives and reduce suffering. The seminar was very useful and will help me handle complicated cases in the future. "

As part of its comprehensive health programme in S omalia, the ICRC supports various medical facilities, including two hospitals in Mogadishu and 28 clinics run by the Somali Red Crescent Society. It provides these facilities with surgical equipment, medicines and training for doctors and nurses. The medical facilities and hospitals accept all patients, regardless of their clan and their religious or political background.

The ICRC has been providing humanitarian aid to the people of Somalia since 1982, working closely with the Somali Red Crescent Society.