Desperate Somali families threaten to overrun Gift of the Givers

2011-08-09 00:00

MOGADISHU — Somali soldiers used gunfire and violence yesterday to prevent the Gift of the Givers clinic and feeding centre from being overrun by people desperate for help.

The need was just too great as families poured towards the centre on its last day of operation, fearful that it was their last chance to get help for their gravely ill children.

Soldiers fired warning shots and beat people back with sticks.

The centre has provided food for a month to 1 600 families with sick children, while giving the children multivitamins and worming syrup.

However, for some critically undernourished children, this was probably just a brief respite before their inevitable death.

In the second centre set up by Gift of the Givers, at least two children have been diagnosed with meningitis and dozens with measles.

Said Omar Jooma, a paediatrician from Pietermaritzburg, “If you look at the types of illnesses that we saw earlier in the week at the first clinic, the second group definitely came from a more established refugee camp. The ill children have already started to infect others.

“Lung infections and whooping cough are the order of the day.

“The two with meningitis will probably not make it if they don’t get more medical care than the two days they were with us.”

Some of the children are also covered in round sores — the result of “treatment” by traditional healers who use burning rags to drive out illness. One starving girl, aged about one, was covered in the sores, which had gone septic.

“She was actually not that sick, aside from being severely malnourished, but the sepsis made her much sicker,” Jooma added.

Gift of the Givers director Dr Imtiaz Sooliman said, “There is just so much that one can do and it is difficult not to be overwhelmed by the need of the people.

“We could only help a few of the more than 50 refugee camps in the city, but from tomorrow, the first food kitchen will begin providing food.”

Somali humanitarian and development organisation Shado will continue the feeding work with South African support.

Food and donations continue to pour in, including an anonymous gift of R2 million made yesterday.

Another air cargo of supplies will arrive on Friday.

More supplies will be shipped via Mombasa to Mogadishu as long as South Africans continue to give.

“South Africans have already done more than their bit, one can but hope the rest of the world does the same,” said Sooliman.

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