A clinic in the shadow of three trees

Aapo Huhta
Aapo Huhta
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In Somaliland, the Red Crescent clinic workers know that the drought reduces malaria but increases eye infections and the risk of epidemics.

On a specific day every month, the cross-country car of the Somali Red Crescent Society mobile clinic arrives at the village of Khalif, in Western Somaliland.

Three nurses assemble their respective healthcare stations under the trees. Above all, the mobile clinic is a maternity and child health clinic, but it assists everyone, not only the mothers and children.

Five-month-old Mouhammed Abdullahi has just been measured, weighed in the hanging scales, and finally vaccinated against pneumonia, tuberculosis, jaundice and polio – and now he is bawling.

“This child is fine,” nurse Zamzam Gedi says happily, as she writes down the measurements of the baby boy: 50 centimetres and some six kilos.

Malnutrition weakens the immune system

The village of Khalif is situated in the dry area of Somaliland, and some local children are malnourished, though not yet to a troubling extent. In any case, the drought has caused many troubles and health issues.

“Pneumonia and diarrhoea, in particular, are common,” Zamzam says.

“The drought reduces some illnesses, but increases others. For example, the number of malaria infections is decreasing here since even the mosquitoes hate the dry weather,” says Terhi Heinäsmäki, the Finnish Red Cross representative for Eastern Africa.

However, instead of malaria, the illnesses caused by the lack of water, such as eye infections and skin diseases, are increasing.

“Epidemics will also increase, as people meet each other when obtaining water. The immune system of a malnourished person is weakened, and that is why illnesses such as measles, diarrhoea, colds and pneumonia spread,” says Heinäsmäki, a physician herself.

For many, the clinic is the only source of healthcare

Under the next tree, the clinic treats expecting mothers and new mothers with their babies. The nurse sits and holds the patient’s hand: they speak quietly and confidentially. The mother feeds her new-born baby during the conversation. The mother receives iron and vitamin supplements and plenty of instructions about her and her baby’s health.

“The mobile Red Crescent clinic is our only source of healthcare. Women often have birthing complications, and the closest healthcare centre is more than an hour’s drive away,” says Raho Said Derie, chair of the local women’s committee and a layperson midwife.

Most of the women here give birth at home, assisted, at most, by a traditional midwife like Raho Said Derie.

Under the third tree, the manager of the mobile clinic, Asma Omar, hosts her own outpatient clinic. She has worked here for three years and knows her patients. Being persevering is important: that is how trust and good patient relationships are created.

“At the moment, the drought and the health issues caused by it are the most serious problems. However, we are able to assist the people a lot, since we know the area’s patients and their illnesses.”

The mobile clinic carries a basic medication supply, including antibiotics, and the patients receive the medication free of charge.

The Finnish Red Cross supports the mobile clinics of the Somali Red Crescent Society. There are currently six clinics in Somaliland. The funding from the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, ECHO, supports three mobile clinics.

Text: Leena Reikko