Voices: The doctor between two countries
“Developing health programmes that stop Somali men from participating in piracy, rehabilitating hospitals that have been out of commission for 20 years and procuring new medical equipment are just some of the projects I support. There’s just one catch: these projects are in Somalia and I work from Kenya. It’s hard to achieve what you want when access to the country is so limited.” -
Health Advisor, Somalia.
I am an Italian medical doctor and have been working for UNOPS for four years now. I work on health projects in Somalia, but am based in Nairobi, Kenya. It's tough to work on projects from a distance, but the security situation is so dire that many areas of the country are inaccessible. When I visit the capital of Somaliland, Hargeisa, which requires the least in terms of security measures, I can choose between two hotels and I don't need an escort to travel around town. But movement in most of the country is more complicated – you need to travel in armoured vehicles with soldiers. One of my colleague's cars was blown up. The danger is real.
I work on a number of projects, including an Italian Development Cooperation initiative to develop health activities in Eyl – one of the former piracy hubs – to help encourage pirates to pursue more legitimate ventures. I am also supporting the rehabilitation of the De Martino hospital in Mogadishu, where many Somali people claim to have been born or to have had relatives who worked there.
One of the most interesting and challenging projects I have been involved in was working with architects for a year to produce a master plan for a hospital in Hargeisa. Being a doctor, I didn't know much about the infrastructure component, but I could offer insight into what the different departments needed in terms of space and facilities. Hargeisa is one of the top hospitals in Somaliland, with 150 beds and many different facilities, including an x-ray, a laboratory, an intensive care unit and a large dialysis unit.
I graduated as a doctor in 1981 and went to Ethiopia in 1985 to work on the national leprosy control programme for three years. After discovering I wanted to focus on public health, I went to London and did a Master's in Community Health, before taking positions with the World Health Organization, a non-governmental organization called CCM and the Italian Development Cooperation.
I have an Italian wife who lives in Ethiopia, so I am back and forth quite a lot. I think it has always been my destiny to split my time between two countries. In my personal life, those countries are Kenya and Ethiopia, and in my professional life, it's Kenya and Somalia.