A family fleeing Somalia famine, learns for the first time that that safe hygiene practices can save their lives

By Kate Brogan, WASH Programme Assistant

Sultana and her husband had finally made the difficult decision to leave southern Somalia – food shortages from the 2011 drought, along with ongoing conflict, meant they no longer were able to feed their four children. The family began the arduous journey to Ethiopia in search of a better life.

They were lucky to have access to a car for their journey, but did not have the money for adequate food or shelter, so they all slept in the car at night. When they finally reached the Dollo Ado reception centre two days later, all the children, ages 2–10, had fallen seriously ill. They had what Sultan describes as measles; coughing and bad diarrhoea.

Though life is difficult in the Kobe Refugee camp, where the family has been re-settled, Sultana says International Medical Corps has made a lifesaving difference to her children. She admitted that when they lived in Somalia she never would have sought medical attention for the children – either by visiting a doctor or going to a medical centre – she would wait for the illness to pass and hope for the best.

During the first few days in Kobe camp, International Medical Corps’ Community Hygiene Promoters (CHPs) visited Sultana. They explained the importance of coming to the clinics in the camp if anyone in her family was ill, and that illnesses like diarrhoea can be prevented by safe water storage and handling, and by using the latrines and handwashing facilities provided. Following the advice of her CHP, Sultana visited the Health Centre in Kobe Refugee Camp, and today all of her children are fit and healthy.


International Medical Corps’ support did not end once the family’s health emergency was resolved. The staff continues to promote sanitation and hygiene practices that will help prevent Sultana’s children becoming ill again. When Sultana and her family lived in Somalia they never had a latrine.  Since coming to Kobe she now understands the importance of safe waste disposal and she is proud to say she shares a latrine with her three neighbours.  They all work together to ensure it is always clean, and she has trained all her children on how to use it.  She knows the dangers of germs from children’s faeces and wants to keep her compound clean.

All the messages she hears from the CHPs regarding sanitation and hygiene she teaches to her family and neighbours.  Her tent is immaculate inside and she is proud of the fact that she ensures her children bathe every day and their clothes are clean.  The compound where she lives is free from solid waste, as both Sultana and her husband know the dangers this can pose to the health of their family and she actively encourages her neighbours to do the same.

Sultana is now on the way to becoming one of International Medical Corps’ “Model Families” in Kobe camp, who help  set an example to fellow refugees on how best to apply all they have been taught by the CHPs.  Sultana will soon be holding “tea talks” in which neighbours are invited to see how she maintains her compound, and to hear how her life and that of her family has improved since putting into practice all she has heard.

Life as a refugee in Ethiopia is very different for Sultana and her family, but the skills and knowledge she has gained from International Medical Corps ensure that they have hope for a healthier future.


Find out more about Somalia and Ethiopia news 


Just 22 hours after the devastating 7.0-earthquake hit in January 2010, International Medical Corps’ Emergency Response Team was on the ground in Haiti providing medical care to survivors. Our doctors and nurses were able to mobilise on an unparalleled scale to provide 24-hour emergency care to the acutely injured at the Hôpital de l’Université d’État d’Haiti (HUEH), a 700-bed hospital in Port-au-Prince. HUEH was badly damaged in the earthquake and many local health care professionals were missing. We were able to save thousands of lives through emergency and trauma care in the critical days following the earthquake.

At the height of emergency operations at the hospital, International Medical Corps treated approximately 1,000 patients per day. Our early entry also gave us the foundation to rapidly expand our operations to 15 mobile clinics throughout Haiti to provide critical services. Through the hospital and mobile and fixed clinics, International Medical Corps teams provided more than 110,000 patient consultations during the first year following the emergency.

When reports of acute diarrhoea emerged from the north of Haiti in October 2010, International Medical Corps doctors and nurses immediately deployed to the region providing emergency relief for the growing cholera crisis. Our network of rapidly constructed cholera treatment centres, supported by 820 community health volunteers to educate communities on how to prevent and identify cholera, meant that more than 30,000 cholera patients received life-saving treatment within the first year following the outbreak.



Libya ambulanceInternational Medical Corps was among the first organisations to enter Libya once the conflict began in February 2011, providing emergency medical care to casualties from the fighting and support to hospitals with medical staff and supplies. Among the first challenges our Emergency Response Teams encountered was a chronic shortage of nurses, as thousands of foreign nurses had fled the country. In partnership with the Jordan Health Aid Society, International Medical Corps immediately deployed volunteer nurses to health centres across eastern Libya moving them to towns and cities throughout the country as access permitted. Volunteer nurses trained the local counterparts while working alongside them.

At the country’s borders and within Libya, we supplied those displaced by the fighting with essential relief items, including blankets, bottled water and food. Recognising the danger posed by communicable diseases, our sanitation and hygiene specialists constructed latrines and washing stations in transit camps along the Tunisia borders.

Libya 5As the fighting went on International Medical Corps worked as close to the front line as possible, providing emergency treatment to those injured in the conflict, and medicines and supplies to besieged towns and cities. In Misurata, inaccessible by road, we evacuated nearly 500 injured civilians by boat. International Medical Corps’ mobile field hospitals treated the wounded from battles in Tripoli, the Western Mountains, Bani Walid, Sabha, Jufrah and Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte.



Mali - villagerInternational Medical Corps mobilized an emergency response in Mali in January 2013 after rebel armed forces from the north began moving south, triggering French military intervention. In Timbuktu, which had spent months under the control of armed Islamist rebel our team were amongst the first international organisations to arrive and found pillaged clinics, missing medical personnel and damaged health infrastructure.

We immediately began supporting eight strategically targeted health clinics in remote areas around Timbuktu, where the Malian Ministry of Health has been unable to maintain adequate services to local communities. By providing medicines, training staff and recruiting qualified doctors and nurses, we can ensure local people will now have access to basic primary and secondary health care for the first time in months

Mali-Road-to-TimbuktuTrue to our mission to build self reliance, International Medical Corps is also already training community health workers to go out to local markets and spread essential hygiene, reproductive health and nutrition messages. We are also working to rehabilitate clinics damaged during the conflict, by building or repairing latrines, water systems, solar panel systems and other infrastructure repairs, enabling health workers to have stable and well-equipped facilities to help the people of Mali.


Basanti & Bishal's story

Basanti, a young mother of two in Nepal, returned home from fetching water for her family to find her 8-month old son Bishal had fallen into the open cooking fire. Basanti was in shock, but she wrapped her baby in blankets and ran for help. No one in their village or at the local health post knew what to do so she had to travel more than six hours by bus to seek emergency care at the closest hospital. The district hospital could only stabilize Bishal and wasn’t able to treat his wounds properly. As a result, his little fingers contracted into a fist as the burned skin contracted and “healed” over the coming year, making it impossible for him to use his hand. His cheek, lips and eyelid also contracted and tightened, threatening his vision.

After selling part of their farm to pay for transportation to Kathmandu, Basanti sought further treatment for her baby. However, two hospitals in the nation’s capital could not help either. Adding to Basanti’s struggles, her husband abandoned the family, leaving her alone to care for Bishal and his four-year-old sister.

Thankfully, Basanti heard about the surgical care available through ReSurge International, our trusted partner with a 43-year history of serving burn victims. Dr. Rai, ReSurge’s Outreach Director in Nepal, and his team restored Bishal’s eyelid and his hand will soon be surgically repaired as well.

Even though it took more than a year for him to get appropriate treatment, Bishal is one of the lucky ones. Thousands of children never get the care they need to live a normal life after a disabling burn.


Our impact through training in 2012



Our Mother Care Group Approach


Read more about our community based approach to prevention and treatment of malnutrition