A French Doctor’s Perspective

The following is written by a volunteer at the Hospital, Dr. Brigitte Herant Dunais.

A link sent by my son – I have no idea how he came across the Edna hospital website – prompted me to apply as a volunteer for the month of October 2011, an experience I do not regret. This was an opportunity to discover Somaliland, its people, its history and its plight as it strives to obtain recognition from the international community. But most of all it was a chance to witness what determination and dedication can achieve in a difficult context, where constraints opposed by poverty, tradition and religion all converge to make provision of medical care a seemingly insurmountable challenge. That challenge has been taken up by Edna Adan Ismail who has dedicated her life to improving the condition of her countrywomen. And judging by the steady flow of deliveries in her maternity hospital, she has certainly filled a void and brought comfort and security to many who would otherwise have had their babies in far more hazardous settings.

Doctor Said with Brigitte

Doctor Said with Brigitte

But there is still a lot to overcome as women are deprived of what any Westerner would consider as basic rights, are subjected to intentional burns, are required to undergo genital mutilation, to have at least 10 children to please their spouse who has the right to oppose a life-saving C-section, or any surgical procedure. Some endure the distress of watching their child develop horrific hydrocephalus for lack of a neurosurgeon, or die from a snakebite for lack of an antidote – there is none in the country, and they probably couldn’t afford it anyway, were it available; and yet many men waste their meager income chewing khat. Edna is trying to promote “child spacing,” apparently a more acceptable term than family planning; it is however forbidden to sell condoms in Somaliland.

Then there is the lack of specialized staff: visiting surgeons repair cleft lips, broken limbs, retracted burn scars, but there is no pathologist to read a biopsy specimen. The range of medications is limited.

Yet in spite of it all, there is hope. I believe the young women of Somaliland are the ones who will make their country a better place, indeed I met several who were driven by that ambition, and Edna is certainly an inspiration for them. Our role as volunteers is also to encourage and support this drive, and help them demonstrate their ability to play a responsible and independent role in their society.

I was told I was the first French doctor to volunteer at Edna hospital. I do hope others will come after me – I should mention in passing that Edna’s French is flawless. My activities included attending the prenatal clinic or the maternity ward, assisting in C-sections, doing the ward rounds, seeing outpatients, and teaching nursing students. Even if one cannot speak Somali, there is always someone willing to translate, and also much comfort to be conveyed by a smile or a reassuring hand. And the people are kind and friendly, the staff welcoming, the atmosphere around Edna’s table homely, and the turnover of international volunteers stimulating. A month was definitely too short!

Brigitte Herant Dunais, MD
Speracedes, France


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