Somaliland: Swede Grandmother Helps Train Sexual and Reproductive Health Specialists

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Ms. Annika Johansson helps train local medical specialists

By: Yusuf M Hasan

HARGEISA (Somalilandsun) – Health institutions in the country are soon to start availing specialized sexual and reproductive health services provided by locally trained personnel.

This development follows a two years program by Dalarna University of Sweden which has been working together with the universities of Hargeisa and Amoud in Somaliland to teach midwives through a unique web-based training program

This was revealed by Ms. Annika Johansson a 70 years Swedish grandmother from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm during an interview with Somaliland in Hargeisa where she is visiting on official duties related to the program.

“In September 2015 the unique program is going to graduate 24 graduates in Sexual and Reproductive health” said Ms. Johansson while stressing that this will be the first batch of locally trained sexual and reproductive health specialists to graduate with a master’s degree.

The diminutive Grandmother of four who is also founder member of Somali-Swedish Research association-SSRA an NGO based in Sweden is the reader of the theses’ of the 24 would be graduates which is being supervised by Kerstin Erlandsson who also doubles as the Dalarna university web-based training program coordinator.

Justifying the importance of the training program funded by the Swedish International Development Agency-SIDA Grandma Johansson said “In Somalia and Somaliland infant and maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the world with 108 out of 1,000 newborn children dying before their first birthday”

For Annika Johansson relationship with Somalis started in the early 80’s when she was part of research project in Mogadishu that collapsed because of the civil war and leaving a number of locals stranded in Sweden where they had been studying under project sponsorship.

“Since we did not want to terminate the very productive project and with a number of Somalis stranded in Sweden as a result of civil war in their country, we came up with the idea of establishing the Somali-Swedish Research association-SSRA, as a Non-Governmental organization.

“The Core SSRA objective of supporting Swedish intervention fronted by Somalis in local development has been very successful so far” revealed Ms. Johansson citing NAFIS network in Hargeisa as a good example.

NAFIS Network which works against female genital mutilation operates among others the small Magan Hospital located in one of the poorer areas of the city of Hargeisa where Three times a week the organization is open for counseling to victims of FGM with other three days devoted to visiting families or women’s groups.

According to the Grandma the support for Nafis is channeled through the Swedish Somaliland Research Association that receives project support from Forum Syd. The Forum Syd support for the project totaled 1.2 million SEK between 2008 and 2013, money which in turn came from the Swedish International Development Agency- Sida.

With The vast majority of Somali women having undergone genital mutilation, a dangerous practice that causes lifelong injuries the SSRA with Sida support identified the activities and efforts of Nafis’ to put an end to this strong tradition as worthy case for Intervention.

Ms Annika Johansson persuse books at the Hargeisa International fair 20152Though she has visited Somaliland several times during the last couple years as mentor to the 24 trainees of first phase of the web-based training graduating September 2015 sexual and reproductive health medics and continuous interaction with the SSRA she is yet to visit Mogadishu or parts Somalia since her departure in the eighties.

“I want to see my grandchildren grow and with the current status of insecurity in Somalia am not sure a visit will be advisable”

As for Somaliland and in lieu of her several visits, she is yet to move freely even in the capital Hargeisa which is her regular base and acknowledged to be safe as Stockholm or even more dude to her post visit security briefings that apply similarly to all Horn of Africa Countries.

In conclusion, as to her plans for future visits the lady said “Yes am certainly coming back and this time will taking your (Somalilandsun) advice to ride a bus from my hotel to the town without an accompanying security detail.

Meanwhile, “For the Master’s Program we have selected dedicated students who are able to contribute to the development of maternity care in Somaliland. In the future many of them will take on the role as trainer, manager of health organizations or work within the government”, says Khadra Eli Egal, course coordinator at Hargeisa University.

A lady very proud in being part of the program that produces for the first time in the history of Somaliland a cadre of locally trained holders of a master’s degree in Sexual and reproductive health professionals

Following explanations related to the Guleid hotel car park saga we had a casual conversation with Kerstin Erlandsson who coordinates the project at Dalarna University thus informed that “The lecturers from Dalarna visit Hargeisa every third month to conduct exams and go through the next course module”

Adding that “Dalarna University is a leader in web-based learning, and there is a very strong commitment to global health issues among our staff, ” Kerstin Erlandsson, who has previously worked in Nepal and Somalia, speaks of the strong commitment among the persons she has met during the project.

“There is a lot of talk about brain drain and of educated people leaving Africa as soon as they get the chance. But the persons we train want to stay to rebuild the country and they are joined by Somalis who return from.”

For Somalilandsun which met with Ms. Annika Johansson at the Hargeisa International Book Fair –HIBF 2015, a taste of the negativity created by the security briefing for expatriates visiting the country became a reality at the car park of the Guleid Hotel in Hargeisa and Venue of HIBF 2015.

Khadra Eli Egal left is the coordinator for the distance learning Masters Course in Sexual and Reproductive Health. Khadra Ahmed Hassan right is one of the students at the University of Hargesia in SomaliaHaving made arrangements for an interview later in the day at local base at the Mansoor Hotel Somalilandsun met again with the 70 years old Swede at the car park where she was in company of a white lady we later learned was a fellow Swede Kerstin Erlandsson who is Dalarna university web-based training program coordinator and young lander ladies now known to be some of the students graduating from the program as well as Khadra Eli Egal, course coordinator at Hargeisa University.

The soon to be dumfounded Somalilandsun team which upon enquiry of the logistic arrangements for Ms. Annika Johansson that was obviously not in place, an offer of a lift to her next destination was made and subsequently accepted.

And having agreed to take her to Mansoor hotel the Grandmother and her Swedish colleague got in the back seat of the Somalilandsun car and a few seconds later Ms. Erlandsson jumped out in a hurry while urging the also confused Annika to get out.

This writer who was in the driver’s seat and a colleague worried about the hasty exit by the two ladies was made as a result of something very dirty in the cars backseat ‘that occasioned a thorough search to naught, the two ladies upon completing their conversation in Swede then thanked us for the ride but said they had opted to wait for their own transport regardless of its lateness.

Embarrassed to ashes we departed the Hotel while wondering on the reasons behind the unceremonious behavior that reciprocated a sincere and courtesies offer , my colleague after much soul searching attributed it the Roots Reggae music , my favourite, that were listening to from the car’s stereo deck.

The Somalilandsun wheeled jalopyUpon linking up at the Mansoor hotel for the interview later in the afternoon and Since the Swede’s behavior had disconcerted me very much, I requested an explanation, off the record, only to be told that it was as a result of the security briefing that they had for a short time forgotten especially the part that says “Don’t interact with anybody body not in your official register or anyway related to your work”

Despite this small mishap the 70 years old Swedish grandmother of Four is satiated with success of the initial soon to be extended web based training of Sexual and reproductive health specialists who will play a major role in helping reduce child mortality rates in Somaliland.

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