Somaliland nurse debunks harmful traditional beliefs around health


Samsam Jama, a nurse working in Somaliland’s Edna Hospital and Hargeisa General Hospital, has published a book in Somali about the Somali public’s harmful misconceptions on health issues. The book, titled Faraadin, (‘Herbalist: medical myths’), discusses some of the false beliefs she has found to be widespread among her patients while working as a nurse, and which she seeks to debunk with correct information made accessible in Somali language. She told Radio Ergo’s reporter, Ilyas Abdi, about her book.

Samsam: In general, Faraadin discusses medical myths among the Somali community that have no scientific background. Some of these misconceptions are about the way people treat themselves when sick, the medicine to use, how disease is contracted, and the misconceptions surrounding breastfeeding and child vaccinations.

As a nurse, I have come across a number of medical myths believed by my community. I couldn’t cover everything in my book, so all I have in Faraadin are some of the misconceptions that I have researched, such as Ilko-Daacwo (where a baby’s first teeth are removed during teething).

Radio Ergo: What is Ilko-Daacwo?

Samsam: Teething is a widespread belief where the infant’s first milk teeth are removed because it is thought this will prevent childhood diseases. It is practised in many African countries, among them Somalia and Tanzania.

Some of the other things I cover in the book are birth control medicine, which is supposed to be taken by mothers who give birth by Caesarian section to help them get time to heal before the next pregnancy. The medicine is supposed to be used for six-months to give the uterus a break from childbirth. But the problem is that our people believe this medicine causes long-term infertility. This has led many mothers who delivered through C-section to become pregnant again less than a year later, putting the life of the child and the mother at risk. A number of medical studies, some of which I cited in my book, show that this medicine helps the mother and does not cause infertility.

Radio Ergo: You mention that women are denied food during childbirth for fear of displacement of the uterus. Could you elaborate on that?

Samsam: This is a false belief; it doesn’t happen like that. The uterus gets displaced only in one way, when the expectant mother gives birth with the help of an untrained midwife, who might pull the baby from the mother wrongly therefore causing the uterus to get displaced.

Radio Ergo: What about the importance of breastfeeding, which you write about?

Samsam: Somali mothers believe that a lot of breastfeeding is harmful to the infant. However, breastfeeding is important for the infant. There are a lot of nutrients the infant gets from the mother’s milk. We are even told in the Koran to feed the children for two years. If the mother stops breastfeeding the child at an early age, it can result in health issues for the child later as they lack nutrients they would get in breastfeeding.

Radio Ergo: You say you met parents who misunderstand child vaccination, could you tell us more about it?

Samsam: Yes, I met mothers who believe that child vaccinations are diseases injected into the babies and that they impact the child’s healthy growth, so they avoid vaccinations. I have encountered all the widespread medical misconceptions that are passed on from mothers to their daughters that I think cause problems in our society. I wrote this book in Somali to right these misconceptions, and it is my hope that this book will change a lot among my community.