In Somalia, Ambulance Drivers Navigate Danger to Save Lives

BY David Pelcyger  July 31, 2012 at 4:27 PM EST


Banadir Hospital staff bring a patient in for treatment. Photo by Abdullahi Ahmed Hussein.

In the Somali capital Mogadishu, Mohammed Saeed Hassan was driving his ambulance one day in February when an artillery shell landed directly in front of him. The shell splintered the windshield and left Hassan with minor injuries, but he was able to pick up the injured patient and get him to the hospital for treatment.

Conflict within the country has been a fact of life since 1991. In 2010, at the height of hostilities between the Transitional Federal Government and al-Shabab, an Islamist group with ties to al-Qaida, more than 6,000 people were admitted to the city’s two largest hospitals.

Al-Shabab is seeking to wrest control from the existing, weakened government. In August 2011, U.N.-backed African Union troops gained control of Mogadishu, and the city is relatively safer these days, though sporadic attacks — like the one Hassan (pictured at right) experienced — continue.

Hassan, a 30-year-old father of two, is one of nine ambulance drivers who work for Aamin Voluntary Ambulance Co., transporting patients to one of four hospitals in the city.

The ambulance company began in 2008, when Dr. Adbulkadir Abdirahman Aden, one of the founders, bought an ambulance and hired the first driver. He is one of a small group of Somali doctors responsible for contributing to the operating expenses to keep the free service running. It now operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with six ambulances.

Injuries range from cholera and life-threatening diarrhea to shrapnel wounds and other injuries from the lingering fighting.

The company struggles with funding, but Aden says he persists because “doctors always want to save lives.”

Freelance writer Abdullahi Ahmed Hussein in Mogadishu reported on this story for the PBS Newshour. Jamal Ali and Omar Nur provided translation assistance.