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Responding to Violence in Somalia
September 15, 2006
Istarlin Hospital is one of very few health facilities that perform quality surgery in Somalia. Patients with gunshot wounds come from both Galgaduud and other regions for surgery. Some travel up to 200 kilometers to get to the hospital.
MSF took over responsibility for Istarlin Hospital in the town of Guri El in early 2006. Since then, 21 percent of the admissions to the hospital have been violence-related. Many of its beds are occupied by patients with disturbingly similar stories.
"I have no idea why he shot me," Abdinaser says.
Another young man, Ahmed al Faray, explains that he was traveling on a truck when gunmen stopped the vehicle to rob its passengers. Ahmed was shot in the left arm. He has received surgery, and is recovering in the hospital.
Hassan Aden Noor is from the Hiiran region. He has been hospitalized for 20 days. Bandages cover his abdomen.
"I was shot in the stomach by robbers," he says.
"We hear stories like these very often," says MSF surgeon Abbas Hassan Warsane. "We are able to treat most of the gunshot victims, but we do not know how many die of their injuries before they get here."
One of the first patients at the hospital after MSF arrived in Guri El was a young boy from Abudwaaq, near the border with Ethiopia.
"He came here with a very serious grenade injury," says MSF nurse Bianca Tolboom. He and two friends had been stealing from a shop. The shop owner placed a watch on a piece of cloth, under which she hid a live grenade.
"Both of his friends were killed in the blast," Bianca says. "After two months and three rounds of surgery, we could finally discharge the boy."
Frequent acts of piracy off Somalia's coast have caught the attention of international media, as have death tolls in the hundreds after clashes in the capital Mogadishu. The everyday violence endured by Somalis is perhaps less spectacular, but it is no less serious for those who suffer from it.
"Survival instincts have been brought down to a very brutal level after 15 years of lawlessness and civil war," says MSF Head of Mission David Michalski. "That is the reality people here are forced to live with."
MSF has been working in Somalia since civil war began there in 1991. It currently runs eight medical projects in the country. In 2005, MSF provided more than 350,000 outpatient consultations and admitted more than 10,000 patients to its health facilities.