Direct Relief Presents Former First Lady and Foreign Minister of Somaliland


On Thursday, October 7 at 7 p.m., Direct Relief with the Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies and the Human Rights Group at UCSB will present a free talk entitled, “Human Rights and Women’s Health” with Edna Adan Ismail, the former First Lady and Foreign Minister of Somaliland at UCSB’s Campbell Hall.  The talk is open to all members of the community and is free of charge.  Thomas Tighe, CEO, Direct Relief, will introduce Adan and talk about Direct Relief’s support of her efforts in Somaliland.

“We are honored that Edna Adan is coming to Santa Barbara to share her incredible insight, passion and knowledge with us,” said Thomas Tighe.  “We are humbled by her extraordinary commitment to her people and her tireless efforts to improve health conditions, particularly for women.”

Edna Adan Ismail was born in 1937 in Hargeisa, Somaliland, in the Horn of Africa, and has spent her life advocating for women’s rights and improving access to basic healthcare for women and children. Adan is the former Foreign Minister of Hargeisa, and worked for the World Health Organization (WHO) as the Regional Nursing Adviser and Technical Officer for Maternal and Child Health, with responsibility for issues relating to harmful traditional practices which affect the health of women and children, like female genital mutilation. She was also responsible for the training of midwives and Traditional Birth Attendants in the 22 countries of the Eastern Mediterranean Region of WHO.

Adan was the first woman in her country to become a trained nurse midwife, the first to obtain a driver’s license, and the first lady of both Somalia and the autonomous region of Somaliland.  She was also the first to open a non-profit maternity hospital in the country, the Edna Adan University Hospital, which she built and founded in 2002 in order to improve maternal healthcare in a region that suffered from some of the highest death and disability rates in the world. Built on the site of a former garbage dump—the only land that the government had available to give to Adan when she professed her commitment to building this hospital following her long career with the United Nations—she has transformed the space into a leading referral hospital and training facility in the region.

Direct Relief was first made aware of the remarkable work that Adan was doing in 2005, and given the mutual commitment to improving health for women and children, Direct Relief began supporting her efforts. Since 2005, Direct Relief has provided over $1 million dollars worth of medicines and medical supplies to equip the Edna Adan University Hospital and its staff.

In 2009, Direct Relief expanded support for Edna’s Hospital by providing additional resources in order to increase the hospital’s ability to provide treatment and care for women with obstetric fistula, a severe medical condition in which a fistula or hole develops internally after severe or failed childbirth when adequate medical care is not available.

In collaboration with The Fistula Foundation, Direct Relief funded the construction and equipping of an operating theater and the development of a training curriculum for midwives and nurses in obstetric fistula management. The grant funding made possible the construction of not only one operating theater but three, so the Edna Adan University Hospital can increase its capacity to treat patients and grow in its essential role as a leading teaching hospital in the region.

Over the coming decade, Adan plans to train 1,000 midwives in Somaliland in order to reduce the still high number of women that die or are injured in childbirth due to preventable causes.

“Edna Adan first scandalized her country by learning to read, and she’s been shocking her neighbors ever since. Now she is startling those few Westerners who venture to the Horn of Africa and find, gleaming in the chaos, a beautiful maternity hospital.” —Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky

The October 7 event at Campbell Hall is sponsored by Direct Relief, the Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies, the Human Rights Group at UCSB.  Media sponsor is the Santa Barbara Independent.

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