Somali Doctor: ‘If I was sane, I would have fled!’

AFRICA, 4 Jul 2011

Mohammed Adow – Al Jazeera

Dr Mohammed Yusuf, is one of Somalia’s unsung heros. He is the director and chief surgeon of the Madina Hospital, one of Mogadishu’s few operational hospitals, and the country’s top trauma medical facility.

His work involves repairing broken limbs, intestines and uteruses. As a war in which the biggest casualties are civilians rages on outside, Dr Yusuf and his team work round the clock in the facility’s emergency section.

He believes he is not normal.

“The difference between a robot and a human being are feelings,” he observes. “I have grown numb to almost everything that goes on around me. Very few things move me,” he told me as he did his early morning rounds.

“If I was normal and had my feelings intact, I would have fled like the thousands fleeing my country every month,” he says.

The only thing that keeps him going, he says, is the knowledge that he is saving lives.

Dr Yusuf and his team at Madina operate on between 10 and 100 people a day, depending on whether there is fighting in the city. They range from patients who have bullets and shrapnel lodged in their guts to others who need amputations – at times of both legs and arms.

As is the case with any hospital in a war-ravaged city, Madina is ill-equipped and poorly staffed. They use the most basic of equipment to help save the hundreds maimed in Somalia’s seemingly endless war.

When the Somali state fell in 1991, Dr Yusuf fled the free-for-all that ensued. For little over a decade, he worked and lived in Italy, Swaziland and Mozambique. He returned to Somalia in 2002.

“I returned to help my people”,  he says.

Today, a week can go by before the doctor sees his wife of the last 35 years. She, too, is a doctor and is involved in helping the sick in the Somali capital.

During the few hours I spent with him at the hospital, I realised Dr Yusuf’s lack of emotion is not absolute. He is an angry man: angry at the conflict that keeps decimating his people, and angry at those who fight it.

He also abhors the suffering civilians are frequently subjected to and the lack of meaningful intervention on their behalf.

“In Libya, NATO is bombarding Gaddafi’s strongholds on the pretext of defending civilians. Who do you ever hear speak of defending the defenceless Somalis?” he asks.

He also points to examples that are closer to home.

“The International Criminal Court is dragging Kenya’s high and mighty to court for the country’s post-election unrest that killed 1,500 people. In Somalia, the same number of people and even more die in just a single month. Where is [ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-] Ocampo?” he asks.

One image, he says, will remain with him forever:

“I will never forget the day I was forced to chop off the legs of a 23-year-old pregnant lady to save her life. I did it with the full knowledge that she will require the help of someone else for the rest of her life, but I has nothing else to do.”

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