1/20/2021
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HOL 2020 Person of Year: Dr. Fawzia Abikar, Minister of Health, Somalia


Hiiraan Online Editorial
Monday, January 11, 2021

The HOL Editorial Board and Amin Arts have unanimously chosen Health Minister Dr. Fawzia Abikar as the 2020 Person of Year.

The decision to recognize Dr. Abikar for this commendation is objectively informed by her exemplary performance in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 epidemic has ravaged nations the world over both physically and financially. That disease has left close to two (2) million people dead and has infected another 90 million. The economic cost is yet to be tallied, but the World Economic Forum estimates it to be between $8.1 and $15.8 trillion globally.

Dr. Abikar was born in Jowhar in the Middle Shabelle region, where she pursued her primary and secondary education before joining the Somali National University for her A-Levels. She would later earn a master’s degree in Health Services Management from the Instituto Superiore di Sanita’ in Rome and completed a Ph.D. in Public Health from l’Universita’ Degli Studi di Roma, “La Sapienza.”

She worked in Somalia and Italy before being appointed Health Minister of Somalia’s Federal Government in 2017.

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Dr. Abikar has established a remarkable record in transforming the health sector in Somalia. Among her achievements as minister was the drafting and passage of the National Health Professionals Law and the Universal Health Coverage launch. She also led and oversaw the takeover and management of Benadir and De Martino Hospitals, both of which have 700 staff by the Federal Government.

It was not without its difficulties. The COVID hospital in Mogadishu lacked essential equipment like an ICU, and securing oxygen proved to be a difficult problem for doctors and nurses.

Through her steady leadership, Somalia regained its status at the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2017.

Dr. Abikar was awarded the prestigious Minerva Award for her contribution as a role model in ‘promoting positive values and knowledge'.

When the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Somalia on March 16th, there was heightened fear locally and international partners on how the Horn of Africa nation would handle it. With a weak healthcare system, absence of social safety nets, and a dismally performing economy, Somalia was indeed seen as precariously exposed to the impact of the pandemic. Coupled with these, the devastating food destruction by desert locusts and floods had displaced thousands and robbed them of livelihoods.

Somalia was staring at a -triple-threat on top of already existing state rebuilding challenges. There was a need to respond in a coordinated and transparent manner to stem the tide of COVID-19, which pushed the few available health facilities to the brink in the first few months of arrival. Though the response was inter-ministerial and inter-governmental, the bulk of the mission fell on the Federal Health Minister’s shoulder.

On the Ministry of Health’s advice, local and international flights were banned, cutting off imports and taming local spread of the virus. This was followed by the closure of all learning institutions and implementing stringent health measures such as hand-washing, social distancing and public messaging on protection from the virus.

Dr. Abikar’s Ministry employed an existing network of polio outreach workers in Somalia that fanned the country to educate people about the virus and protection against it. These workers were responsible for identifying nearly half of Somalia’s 4,690 infections, according to the WHO.

COVID-19 FUNDS

Like many developing countries, Somalia received donations from the WHO and various countries to help the government respond to the pandemic. And as has been reported in other countries, the funds attracted senior government officials and politicians’ gluttony and selfishness.

She managed to navigate through the internal hurdles meted out against her Ministry while at the same time handling the enormous task of preventing the spread of the disease. The daunting task of combating a new virus, alien to the whole globe, coupled with Somalia’s weak state institution, proved tremendously challenging for the Minister and her Ministry.

In Somalia, then Prime Minister Hassan Khaire sought to have the COVID-19 purse under his office. and there were fears the funds would find ways into the unscrupulous hands of those within the OPM. However, the Health Minister vigorously fought against the move, without which the ministry would be relegated to announcing COVID-19 results. She managed to navigate through the internal hurdles meted out against her Ministry while at the same time handling the enormous task of preventing the spread of the disease. The daunting task of combating a new virus, alien to the whole globe, coupled with Somalia’s weak state institution, proved tremendously challenging for the Minister and her Ministry.

The minister remained steadfast in the wake of corruption allegations against some senior officials in her Ministry who were subsequently jailed.

To date, though COVID-19 remains a threat to the country, the number of cases has not gone up significantly as was the case in the first few months. As of November 25th, there were a total of 4,451 infections with 3,417 recoveries. The number of people who have died as a result of the disease is 113.

In her next act, Dr. Fowzia Abikar is tasked with ensuring that Somalia is not left behind in the race for COVID-19 vaccines. The health ministry is expecting the first doses to arrive sometime within the first quarter of 2021. In addition to that, she must also ensure that vaccination drives for other infectious diseases like polio or measles are not side-lined.

The prudent utilization and management of donor funds by the Ministry of Health ensured that several medical facilities in the country were able to handle COVID-19 cases.

Therefore, it is against this backdrop that Hiiraan Online (HOL) Editorial Board, jointly with Amin Arts, found it befitting to honour Dr. Abikar as the HOL and Amin Arts 2020 Person of Year.



 



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