Somali Women Heroes in Health: Edna Adan Ismail

Mama Edna : women rights activist in Somalia

02.03.11- Somalia’s health care system was utterly destroyed by the civil war leaving the country with,among other problems, the highest rate of maternal and infant mortality in the world. A Somali woman gives birth to an average of 6 children during her life time. 14 in every 1000 women die due to complications related to child birth. One in 4 women were attended during pregnancy at least once by skilled health personnel (doctors, nurses or midwives). About a third (33%) of births are delivered by skilled personnel.

The Edna Adan Maternity Hospital was officially opened on March 2002. The hospital situated in Hargeisa, Somaliland deals with mother and child health-related issues. Currently the hospital has operating theatres, laboratory, library, computer center and a complete wing dedicated to training nurses and midwives. Born in Hargeisa on 8 September 1937, Edna Adan Ismail is the founder and director of the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital.

Edna attained formal training in the area of nursing, midwifery and family planning contributing immeasurably since to the health care sector in developing countries including her home country Somalia. As the first qualified Somali nurse‐midwife, she has continuously engaged in building the capacity of health workers.

She initiated the first training courses for nurses and midwives at the Hargeisa Group Hospital. Edna is a woman of many firsts, having being appointed Director of the Department of Human Resources Development, Ministry of Health and Labor from April 1977 to November 1978, and the first female to be promoted to a position of director in Somalia. In the mid-80s, Edna embarked on putting up the first privately-owned hospital in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu. This initiative was not completed as civil war broke out in 1991 forcing her to flee Somalia.

For about 9 years Edna Adan sat as a member of a Panel of Experts on Human Resource Development for Health for the eastern Mediterranean region that includes Somalia. She also served in the capacity of regional Nursing Advisor for WHO. Later until the early 90’s, she was WHO focal point for the Eastern Mediterranean countries is for traditional practices affecting the including female genital mutilation, safe motherhood initiatives and, training of midwives and traditional birth attendants. Edna has been vocal and instrumental in fighting the practice of female genital mutilation which is endemic in Somalia. In 2010, she was awarded the French Legion of Honor, a French Knighthood in recognition of these and other achievements.

Edna is a strong gender and human rights advocate tackling health issues of women and children in developing countries. She is setting up a second hospital in Hargeisa as a non‐profit making charity. The health facility will serve as a midwifery teaching hospital, having already trained 32 nursing students and 15 laboratory technicians.

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