As recently as 2015, Somali women with fistula had to rely on visiting surgeons to be treated. The country lacked homegrown, highly trained fistula surgeons who could operate year-round on both basic and complex cases. What’s more, the demand for surgery far outstripped the capacity of visiting surgeons. Hundreds of women would be abandoned, and forced to continue suffering from their condition. That same year, Dr. Abdirisak (Abdi) Hassan Artan, a Somali-born surgeon, attended a fistula surgery training session at a surgical outreach effort hosted at Dayniile General Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia.
“At that time, … our Ministry of Health used to register 300 patients. The visiting surgeons from Sudan were doing 100 surgeries or less,” Dr. Abdi recalled. “When the time came to finish [out the year], they just went back, while our ladies with fistula were crying and shouting for help, and rolling on the ground. From that day forward, I decided to become a fistula surgeon, and dedicated my life to helping these poor ladies.”
After witnessing the dire need for Somali surgeons during the outreach effort at Dayniile, Dr. Abdi contacted the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) to request training. He received his first training in 2018, and today he is a FIGO Fellow.
Today, Dr. Abdi is lead fistula surgeon at Keysaney Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia, and he also provides care during the yearly surgical outreach effort held at Dayniile. In addition, he is the national fistula program coordinator for the Somalian Ministry of Health. In that role, he helped develop a five-year strategy to address fistula throughout Somalia.
“In Somalia, we have so few fistula surgeons and we have so many rural areas where women can’t access maternal health. By working together with Fistula Foundation, I hope this tragedy will come to an end in the coming decades,” Dr. Abdi said.
In addition to his other responsibilities, Dr. Abdi makes time to visit our partner Galkayo Medical Center on a quarterly basis to perform repair surgeries on complex fistula cases. In fact, we have Dr. Abdi to thank for connecting our program team with Galkayo. Through Dr. Abdi, we learned about the center’s longtime work in providing fistula care to women in Somalia. The facility became a Fistula Foundation Partner in 2022, and we have supported 90 surgeries there to date.
Dr. Abdi loves his role as a fistula surgeon. “Giving hope and restoring the dignity of my sisters is the most rewarding part [of the work],” he said. That’s why he’ll never forget Aisha, a 14-year-old patient who slipped through the cracks in 2018.
A prolonged, obstructed labor that Aisha endured as a young teen had caused her to develop fistula, and her bladder was severely damaged as well. She was a candidate for a complex procedure called urinary diversion, but Dr. Abdi was not trained to complete this kind of surgery when he first met Aisha. He referred her to a facility that could help her, but her parents wouldn’t allow her to travel there to receive care. Dr. Abdi lost communication with Aisha. Still, he hopes that one day she will return to the fistula center where they met and he will finally be able to transform her life. It is this unyielding spirit of hope—and Dr. Abdi’s compassion for women with fistula—that carry him forward every day.
Published on September 12, 2023