Deqo Mohamed estimates there are only about 200 doctors in the whole of her home country, Somalia-population of over nine million. Of those, she says, only 10 are women. Deqo, her sister Amina and their mother, Hawa Abdi, account for three of them.
In the early 1970s, after returning from her medical studies, Hawa Abdi became one of Somalia’s first female gynecologists. She opened a clinic and one of the region’s largest camps for internally displaced people, which includes a hospital. Both Amina and Deqo grew up working alongside their mother. “While in high school,” Deqo, 37, says, “I was treating deep wounds, delivering babies, working in the emergency room….I did everything except the surgeries. My mother would often scold me-‘Don’t do this, you don’t have a medical degree, you don’t know how.’ But we had no doctors, and the people really needed help.”
Deqo went on to earn her medical degree in Moscow in 2001-she specialized in obstetrics and gynecology. After working briefly in the United States, she returned to Somalia to work full-time as a doctor. Like her mother and sister, she has faced many hurdles as a female doctor in this tiny East African country, which is plagued by war, poverty, corruption and famine. In Somalia, ranked by the United Nations as one of the world’s most dangerous places, women are not encouraged to even go to school, let alone university, or to have jobs in fields such as medicine.
Deqo, Amina and their mother’s foundation, the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation, seeks to help Somali women dream, by providing scholarships to train female doctors and nurses, and medical training for both men and women. But it’s an uphill battle. For one thing, male doctors are not allowed to treat women, so the women usually end up being seen by nurses or, more likely, receiving no treatment at all. And so many females, particularly in rural areas, do not go to school, so there isn’t much chance they will become healthcare workers. Those who are fortunate enough to attend school and dream of becoming doctors are often married off before their university studies begin.
Each day, Deqo, her sister and their mother treat more than 250 patients. Deqo’s greatest joy is when she saves a pregnant mother or brings a new life into the world. Her sadness: “Lack of peace. The children dying every day from starvation that we could treat. And losing the mothers who cannot come to the hospital because their husbands and fathers won’t let them.”
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