January 3, 2007
According to a senior health official there, nearly two decades of civil war in Somalia have wrecked its health system, displaced its populace, and fueled diseases including tuberculosis, malaria and cholera. Since 1991, when the dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted, the country has been engaged in warlord factionalism. On Tuesday, a weak transitional government wrested Somalia from Islamist fighters after two weeks of artillery exchanges.
"The extremely limited capacity of the health ministry to deliver health care and the increasing need for this care as a result of widespread poverty and deprivation makes the country fertile soil for the spread of all kinds of diseases and ill-health," said Dr. Osman Dufle, vice president of the National Committee for Health Emergency Services and a former junior health minister of the transitional government.
Many of Somalia's trained medical workers are reaching retirement age with no one to replace them, said Dufle. In November, a UN-Health Ministry report warned of that shortage.
"In terms of health personnel, the findings revealed 240 doctors, 400 nurses, 80 midwives, 100 health technicians and over 800 traditional birth attendants," stated the report. "Every year, about 21,000 people are estimated to develop tuberculosis in Somalia, 80 percent of the cases occur in the productive age group between 15 and 44 years."
AIDS data are few; however, the report said the estimated HIV prevalence rate of 0.9 percent among those ages 15-49 is likely too low. An estimated 133 infants per 1,000 births die, and 225 children per 1,000 die before age five. For every 100,000 live births, 1,600 mothers died -- one of the highest maternal mortality figures worldwide.