Many challenges come with being one of the poorest countries in the world. In Somalia, a country located on the Horn of Africa, garnering a quality healthcare system for everyone is a major struggle. With a population of over 12 million, the people of Somalia have one of the lowest life expectancies in the world. Grappling through years of civil war and natural disasters, it has been difficult to overcome widespread disease, malnutrition and an overall lack of healthcare resources. Thankfully, organizations have noticed the absence of a healthcare system and many efforts are going towards improving healthcare in Somalia.
United Nations Development Program
According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), 58% of Somalis are without healthcare. Recognizing this issue, the UNDP set the goal to have complete universal healthcare in Somalia by 2030. Since the COVID-19 global pandemic, the UNDP has realized how destructive a pandemic can be in all facets of life in a developing nation. In addition to the goals for universal healthcare, it aims to set up structures to strengthen resilience to any future disasters. The UNDP created a blueprint proposing a multi-step initiative to improve healthcare and ensure that it does not leave anyone behind. The program would provide basic healthcare consisting of two tiers of costs and services to choose from. However, the core service will involve the implementation of telemedicine. This will be an immense advancement, considering that most Somalis have to walk miles to get to their nearest healthcare facility.
The UNDP has also been addressing HIV/AIDS issues in the country since 2004. It has implemented investment programs totaling $5.4 million between 2005 and 2009. Its work includes creating knowledge and awareness programs, increasing testing for Somalis and lobbying for HIV/AIDS legislation. The impact of the program’s efforts is notable. As of 2019, there were approximately 11,000 children and adults living with HIV in Somalia in comparison to the approximate 22,810 in 2008.
For immediate attention to the fight against COVID-19, the UNDP is supporting an emergency call center that the Somali government runs. The UNDP contributed by offering transport to volunteers, office equipment and staff. Anyone needing advice on COVID-19 or feeling ill can simply call the center and find assistance from volunteers comprising of medical students, doctors and other health professionals. Additionally, if a patient has severe symptoms or is sick with underlying health conditions, an ambulance can transport them to their local hospital. The center helps roughly 8,000 people a day.
The World Health Organization (WHO)
The World Health Organization (WHO) pledged to assist health authorities in Somalia in increasing the number of healthcare workers and stabilizing primary healthcare services in the country. In September 2019, the organization assisted in launching the plans for universal health coverage (UHC) for the time period of 2019-2023. The WHO understands the importance of improving health systems in the country and hopes to develop powerful health systems to prevent future epidemics. Thus, the UHC initiative aims to give all Somali people improved protection from healthcare emergencies.
The WHO has declared maternal health one of its priorities and advocates for maternal health as a human right. About one in 20 women die during labor due to an overall lack of health resources, which gives Somalia one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. The WHO is bolstering investments in the issue, mobilizing health resources and strengthing healthcare systems to decrease maternal mortality rates.
UNICEF is also fighting to improve healthcare in Somalia. One focus has been to develop safe motherhood and child healthcare programs. The organization worked with Somali health authorities to provide the Essential Package of Health Services (EPHS). Predictions determine that these packages will aid 4.2 million Somalis. The EPHS structure is an extensive range of free health services that will help establish a medical standard for the country. The goal is to provide essential medicines, supplies and equipment as well as train and expand human resources. The program includes aid for neonatal and reproductive health, child immunizations and treatment of widespread diseases like HIV.
Somalia has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world. Due to the lack of sanitation, medical resources and vaccinations, one in seven children will not make it past age 5. Since 1990, deaths among children under 5 have reduced by half. Deaths have decreased thanks to the vaccine initiative that UNICEF and WHO launched in 2013. The program consisted of 1.3 million doses of an innovative “five-in-one” vaccine for the prevention of the top fatal childhood illnesses along with a parental awareness campaign.
The Integrated Community Case Management (ICCM) that UNICEF and WHO organized has also improved healthcare systems. This community-based approach brings experienced and supervised health professionals to the area to help decrease the common childhood illnesses contributing to the high child mortality rate. The system plans to continue developing a solid staff of health leaders and administrators to manage future health disasters.
Some organizations are making great progress in improving healthcare in Somalia. Since the efforts to create an overall healthcare infrastructure, the country has seen improvements in how it controls widespread diseases. In 2004, the average life expectancy was 50, but as of 2018, it was 55. Life expectancy should increase as chronic malnutrition, infant mortality rates and the spread of preventable diseases decrease with improved healthcare systems. Thanks to these resolutions, overall health and wellbeing in Somalia should be on the horizon.
– Tara Hudson