What a Difference a Person Can Make: A Conversation with Edna Adan


Maternal Health

Adan is pictured here with midwives she’s helped train.

Edna Adan has made helping mothers and babies the mission of her life, and does so in her homeland of Somaliland, where the need is great. The area has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, and Adan and the midwives she’s training are working to change that, one delivery at a time.

She’s the founder of the Edna Adan University Hospital in Hargeisa, Republic of Somaliland, and the hospital opened its doors 15 years ago. During that time, Direct Relief has provided critical supplies to enable the hospital’s mission.

Direct Relief has shipped 81 midwife kits that have enabled more than 4,000 safe births in the country.

Learning about Adan conjures up a host of “firsts:” she was the country’s first registered nurse midwife and even the first woman to get a driver’s license in the country. She was a nursing and mental health advisor for the World Health Organization, and has trained a host of midwives in their craft.

Adan spoke at Direct Relief’s Goleta headquarters on Monday, and shared her passion for the work.

Somaliland isn’t a place one can find on a map, she said, and is an autonomous region within the country of Somalia.

“You don’t hear about Somaliland, because we are just too busy rebuilding the country,” she said.

Due to the country’s civil war, many health professionals were killed or fled the area, making medical care for ordinary people difficult to access.

That’s where the 183 midwives, trained by Adan and her staff, come in.

Adan showed a picture of about two dozen midwives, many of whom are in their late teens and early 20s and will be called on to help keep mothers and babies safe as they deliver in their homes.

Giving these young women the training, and tools, they need is the key to keeping women from needlessly dying during birth.

“I want to multiply these girls to 1,000… There should be 1 million for Africa,” she said. “That’s how we reduce maternal mortality.”

A photo was shown of the young midwives carrying a small suitcase, no bigger than a small purse, that they use when they travel to help a mother deliver a baby.

That small kits contains some low-tech tools that can help increase survival exponentially, simple supplies like clamps and surgical gloves.

“That’s what we need,” she said.

Equipping young midwives with medical training and expertise is just one facet of working in Somaliland. Training midwives on how to dissuade family members about female genital mutilation, still an ingrained cultural practice in the area, is also key.

Adan is an outspoken opponent of the practice, which can make it anatomically impossible to deliver a child safely, causing a danger to the mother’s life as well as the child’s.

FGM is “endangering their lives and we have to fight it with everything we have,” she said.

To learn more about Adan’s efforts and her hospital, visit their homepage here.

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