03 August 2011

How's this for efficiency?

Imagine working in a hospital, trying to treat 300 patients a day with a staff of 5 doctors and 16 nurses. Now, imagine trying to do it in a revamped farm just outside Mogadishu. That’s what Dr. Hawa Abdi has been doing since 1983.

The famine currently sweeping East Africa - worse than the famines of the eighties and nineties - has brought thousands more to the doorstep of her hospital, and what was once a daily struggle is now an insurmountable wall of need. If one child dies in the hospital, that’s a great day.

But this isn’t just a hospital. The former farmland, which Dr. Abdi owns, is a tent city. People are free to stay here, where there is access to water, shelter, and healthcare. The people live more or less peacefully, governed by two simple rules that Dr. Abdi enforces (it is her private property, after all) - no talk of clans or politics; and no man shall beat his wife.

Dr. Abdi’s daughter (who is also a doctor) explains it like this in a TED video from 2010: “Three hundred patients per day, ten, twenty surgeries, and still you have to manage the camp - that’s how she trains us. It is not like beautiful offices here, 20 patients, you’re tired.”

To put this in perspective, 300 patients a day is roughly the number of patients that go through the emergency rooms of Mount Sinai Hospital and Toronto General Hospital combined.

Medical miracles aside, what fascinates me most about Dr. Hawa Abdi’s work is the role that non-violence plays in the hospital’s operations. The no-beating rule mentioned above helps to keep things civil, but the fact remains that the area is controlled by Al-Shabaab. This militant organization, when they took over the area, proclaimed that, as a woman, Hawa Abdi could not be in a position of leadership.

They held Dr. Abdi hostage and demanded to take over the hospital. She flatly refused, not least because they wouldn’t know the first thing about running a hospital. Furthermore, she wasn’t about to be ordered around by misogynist terrorists on her own private property. After a week of pressure from the people in the camp and from the international community, Al-Shabaab backed off. They now leave the hospital more or less alone. What’s more, Dr. Abdi demanded a written apology from the organization.

Not a hand was raised against those militants, and now the business of caring for the sick and feeding the hungry continues.

It’s refreshing to hear about an organization doing so much not only to care for the immediate material needs of its community, but also to instil a sense of unity, respect, and peaceful co-existence.

What’s more, they take PayPal - so throw them a few bucks to help keep the food, water, and medical supplies coming.

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