Bristol meets Hargeisa: health exchange in Somaliland

July 22, 2015 Written by Amran Hussein

A member of our Health Links team recently travelled with a Bristol GP to Somaliland on the eastern coast of Africa to take part in a health and cultural exchange with local health professionals.

Amran Hussein, Health Links interpreter for Bristol Community Health, visited her birth country of Somaliland this Spring, along with friend and colleague Dr Katrina Darke, a GP based at Lawrence Hill Health Centre. The pair normally serve a diverse community of patients from their base in central Bristol, and they travelled over 6,000 miles to Somalia to share their knowledge and to better understand their Somali-born patients back home.

Training the next generation
Somaliland’s fledgling public health service is striving to rebuild in the wake of famine and civil war. Amran and Dr Darke travelled to Edna Adan University Hospital in Hargeisa, where they spent time teaching the new generation of medical students, sharing their expertise on family planning, and discussing cultural and healthcare practices in both the UK and Somaliland.

“Our mission in travelling to Hargeisa is to win over hearts and minds on the topic of reproductive health”, said Dr Darke. “Effective family planning reduces maternal and child mortality, by increasing the chances of healthy pregnancy, healthy childhoods and reduced levels of poverty and famine.” Dr Darke and Amran were keen to discuss the benefits of ‘family spacing’, where families wait after the birth of a child before starting their next pregnancy, to protect the health of the mother and any children.

Across the globe, women who become pregnant less than 5 months after giving birth are 2 ½ times more likely to die of a pregnancy related cause than a woman who is able to wait 18-23 months, with complications like infections and premature rupture of membranes.

“Now they know the health benefits they believe family spacing is a good thing”

Amran reflected on their teaching sessions, “Many of the students had never seen the coils and implants, so we were able to look at them in detail, and talk about patient experiences of using contraception in the UK. They were really interested in how our health system works”. After working with the students, some of them were very reflective about the assumptions they make when they think about family planning. Amran said many students were going to try to ‘family space’ themselves after hearing about the health benefits to mothers and children.

The exchange made a big impact on both Amran and Dr Darke. Amran said, “I would like to thank Bristol Community Health for giving me the opportunity to change people’s lives, not only in Bristol but internationally.”

Dr Darke wrote a blog whilst visiting Somaliland – you can read more details about the trip and see photos here.