Mogadishu – Somalia’s health system has been in a severely weakened state for decades due to conflict and humanitarian crises which have led to the displacement of more than 2.6 million Somalis.
Moreover, frontline healthcare workers fighting against COVID-19 and other threats of epidemic potential often have limited expertise and experience treating critically ill patients. That lack of diagnostic resources, coupled with very limited modern medical technology, can create havoc in a public health emergency.
Now, several hospitals and health clinics in Somalia are being equipped to strengthen their capacity to provide healthcare services through remote diagnosis and treatment. Using a digital technology –known as ‘telemedicine’– this new project will help local medical professionals.
There are approximately 6,000 health workers in the country, according to Somalia’s National Development Plan 2020 – 2024. With a 15 million population, this means that there are only 4 health workers per 10,000 Somalis, which is well below the World Health Organization (WHO)’s recommendations. The WHO identifies countries with less than 23 health workers per 10,000 population as often failing to achieve adequate coverage on primary health care.
This new project unveiled by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Somalia is part of a continuing effort to address this health care delivery shortage. It uses video cameras, screens, personal computers and digital mobile devices such as tablets to enhance diagnosis and treatment of patients. The introduction of telemedicine to Somalia’s health system will help local medical professionals access a growing online, digital, and video-based reference “library” of diagnostic expertise within Somalia and beyond its borders.
“This project will link doctors in Somalia with experts abroad and in other parts of the country to complement the diaspora programme which physically places diaspora doctors in the country,” explained Kerry Kyaa, IOM’s senior health expert. “Telemedicine will also mitigate the limitations placed by COVID-19 on international travel and physical distancing.”
IOM Somalia has been supporting health capacity injection through IOM’s Migration for Development in Africa (MIDA) programme, which deploys Somalia health experts from the diaspora into the country’s hospitals and clinics. Yet, due to the current COVID-19 situation, health authorities have found it increasingly difficult to recruit healthcare workers who can respond to the urgent demands of the pandemic.
According to WHO, key challenges facing the Somali health system include the persistently high burden of disease, limited institutional capacity and “inadequate, unpredictable and unsustainable level of financing.” WHO also cites the “absence of balanced, motivated, well-distributed and well-managed health workforce with the appropriate skills,” which this new tele-diagnostic programme will address.
Through videoconferencing and teleconsultations, doctors participating in the project will help those on the frontlines with clinical diagnoses and offer real time recommendations for patient management, both crucial for reducing morbidity and mortality.
A successful rollout of the project will pave the way towards reinforcing the Somalia healthcare system via systematic knowledge-transfers that not only will enrich the healthcare services local doctors provide, but also facilitate the exchange of best practices.
IOM, through funding from the multi-donor Somalia Humanitarian Fund (SHF), supported the Ministry of Health (MoH) to procure the systems and the equipment necessary to start the implementation of the project.
“I would like to thank IOM on behalf of the Ministry of Health and the people in Somalia. IOM has done a great job with the ministry of health before during, and after COVID-19. This telemedicine project is very crucial for the health sector and the people in Somalia will benefit immensely from it,” said Somalia’s Minister of Health and Human Services, HE. Dr. Fawziya Abikar Nur.
“IOM is proud to be supporting Somalia with this new ambitious telemedicine programme and shall continue to work with the Ministry of Health and partners to ensure that migrants and displaced populations can have access to a free and better health care,” added Richard Danziger, IOM Somalia Chief of Mission.