Mogadishu Blues: Tragic attack highlights Somalia’s struggle to reach the sick

Blog contributor: Jessica M. Keralis

On December 3, 22 people were killed while at a graduation ceremony for medical, engineering, and computer science students at Banadir University in Somalia.  The ceremony was the target of a suicide bomber.  Among the dead were were medical students, doctors, and three government ministers, including Dr. Qamar Aden Ali, Somalia’s Minister of Health.  The WHO has described Dr. Ali as a “tireless, energetic and influential advocate for health in Somalia who was determined to improve health standards and care for her fellow Somalis” and who worked closely with the World Health Organization to improve her country’s health system.

The attack is a devastating blow to both the small Somali medical community and the UN-supported government, which cannot even guarantee safety within the few square miles of Mogadishu it controls – less than three months ago, people were killed in an attack against the African Union mission (AMISOM) in the capitol.  These events serve as a painful reminder that the violence and political instability in Somalia oppress its people and deprive them of their basic needs for food, hygiene, and health.  The Afgooye Corridor, a 20-km strip west of Mogadishu, saw a population of 520,000 refugees uproot and move earlier this year.  The displaced are at risk for cholera from poor hygiene and sanitation.  Vaccination campaigns are extremely difficult, and staff face constant dangers.  Medical equipment is not maintained.  Both the WHO and the African Union have re-affirmed their commitment to helping the citizens of Somalia, but it is not just the government itself that is being attacked: both the Minister of Education, Ahmed Abdulahi Waayeel, and the Minister of Higher Education, Ibrahim Hassan Addow, were also killed.  The bombing on Thursday was a calculated attack against the Somali education community.  How effectively can humanitarian aid be administered in a country that has had no effective government for almost 20 years?

Despite valiant efforts, aid missions to Somalia are hindered by limited availability of funds and, more importantly, the political crisis.  Until stability and peace can be brought to this country torn by civil war and violence, its people will continue to suffer.

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