By Paul Ndiho
January 6, 2012
For more than two decades, Somalia has been in turmoil – civil war has killed and injured millions of people and left the country with little infrastructure and nearly no health care. But one man is striving to make a difference by putting his own life on the line to save others.
With bullets ricocheting off nearby walls, World Health Organization trauma surgeon Dr. Omar Saleh, is on the frontlines struggling to save lives.
“I should be where I’m needed, and this is where I’m needed. I’m a trauma surgeon.
This is a conflict; trauma is every day, I must be there.”
Hundreds of thousands have fled the violence in Somalia that has killed so many people.
“When you watch the news, you see, for example, five injured, twenty injured…three killed. Those people, they are fathers, they are mothers, they are children, they are brothers, they are sons. I get to know that.”
When Dr. Saleh first arrived in Somalia in 2007, having already worked in some of the world’s bloodiest conflict zones, he thought he would stay only for six months. But as one of only 10 trauma surgeons in a country of nine million people, he knows he is desperately needed.
“My dad, he was a trauma surgeon, and even before, when I was a student, he told me “Be anything-but not a trauma surgeon!” But if I’m not going to stay here, if I’m not going to do it, who will? Nobody. Any human being has the right to have an access to health care, irrespective of sex, gender, color, clan, whatever. You have bullets, shellings, burns, mainly, pressure injuries, blast injuries, those are the main causes. Facilities are very, very much basic.”
Dr. Saleh says that when he first arrived in Somalia there were hardly any working hospitals, and many of the country’s health workers lack training in trauma management.
“When we talk about hospitals, people think that “hospitals,” is like something in the Movies it’s not. It’s like it was since like 50 years or so. You feel like your hands are tied, particularly when you know that the cure is simple and easy, but you don’t have it.
I care about people, and I have enough morals and thoughts and ideas and ideals to follow that, and to do my best to help them. That’s like an obligation, as a human being, with knowledge, that I should pass this knowledge to somebody else. My worst fear is to go to my grave with my knowledge-I need to make sure that I have passed it before I go.”
Now, Dr. Saleh has trained nearly 100 Somali doctors in trauma surgery. And he’s helped set up more hospitals. But he believes that this is only part of the solution.
If I could stop one thing in the world it would be war, because I find it a stupid thing-I mean big-time stupid. People are dying because of what? Land? Who’s more precious, the land or the people?”