June 10, 2020 / 10:32 AM / a month ago

Battling Somalia's epidemic, a grieving British doctor finds peace

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - British doctor Jihan Mohamud travelled to Somalia for the first time last year to bury her father in the land of his birth.

Finding solace from her grief, she stayed on, and she is now on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19 in the city he loved.

“During the times of health crisis, there are only two things people look up to in the hope of life: God and doctors,” said the 25-year-old from Coulsdon, south of London. “It’s a blessing to be able to help someone in pain.”

She spends her 16-hour work days analysing data in a government call center in Mogadishu, a lifeline for people seeking advice and treatment for coronavirus in a country whose healthcare system has been ravaged by violence and poverty.

“If it were not for this call center... people would go to every hospital and spread the virus,” she said.

The center gets between 6,000-7,000 calls per day, she said, data the health ministry uses to track COVID-19 outbreaks, allocate scarce resources and respond to emergencies.

Somalia has documented 2,416 confirmed coronavirus cases and 85 deaths. Fighting between government forces and Islamist al Shabaab insurgents means testing has been sporadic at best, suggesting the true figures are far higher.

Mohamud is aware of the risks.

Last month, masked gunmen killed seven healthcare workers in a town near the capital.

In December, she was working at a private Mogadishu clinic when a truck bomb killed more than 90 people and wounded scores more, and she spent her holidays treating victims with horrific burns and other injuries, many around her own age.

After a meeting with a government advisor, she switched to the call center and a job she loves, not least for the chance it offers to inspire young local women who also work there.

Slideshow (11 Images)

“I’m a deputy director,” she told Reuters, laughing. “Make sure you put that in. More women should be deputy directors in Somalia.”

But most precious to her is the feeling that she belongs in her father’s homeland after the decades he spent abroad. Despite the violence and the pandemic, she has found her refuge.

“I brought him home to bury him and I didn’t want to leave him behind in a country that I’d never been to,” she said. “Now I know ...the places you can go when you want to be alone.”

Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld; Writing by Katharine Houreld; editing by John Stonestreet

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