MSF in Somalia

As one of the few NGO's working in Somalia, a country classified as a ‘failed state' by some commentators, Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF) are uniquely placed to report on the true situation in the war torn country where they have worked for over 16 years. Village spoke to Colin McIllreavy, an Irishman working for MSF as Head of Mission in Somalia.

MSF is an independent international organisation that provides emergency medical assistance to people in more than 60 countries affected by armed conflicts, epidemics, natural and man-made disasters or exclusion from health care. Colin is one of 60 MSF international staff who work alongside 800 nationals, performing 300000 outpatient consultations and admitting roughly 10000 patients every year in Somalia. The Dundalk man has worked in several locations around the world, and now co-ordinates the efforts by MSF to provide aid to the people there.

The situation is an extremely difficult one, for the NGO and for their patients. Echoing MSF reports, Colin told Village that the Somali capital Mogadishu is a place where those who have not yet left the city are increasingly left with no safe place to seek refuge.

According to McIllreavy, many have left the city, with the numbers of internally displaced people (IDP's) estimated at 200000 before Christmas. The people are fleeing from violence, living in unsanitary conditions under makeshift shelters, and are completely dependent on external assistance. Those children under 5 who live in IDP camps, such as those among the 32000 people in Hawa Abdi, have a mortality rate more than twice the emergency threshold. Diarrhea is the main cause of death in the camp, at over 50 per cent.

The conflict in Somalia is exacerbated by the number of heavily armed warring factions involved. They fight for control of certain areas, and must be negotiated with individually in order for MSF staff to be allowed to travel through. This is a large part of Colin's day-to-day work. The danger faced by MSF employees was recently highlighted by the kidnap of a Spanish doctor and an Argentinean nurse, Mercedes Garcia and Pilar Bauza, who were taken by force from an MSF vehicle on their way to work in a feeding centre where 7000 children under 5 suffer from malnutrition. The two female aid workers were held for a week, but released unharmed.

MSF entered Somalia in their recent ‘Ten Most Underreported Humanatarian Stories of 2007', the seventh year in which the country has featured.  

For more information on the work of MSF visit