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Essa Djama Deciding which patient to treat

first was sometimes difficult

Essa Djama, 32, a doctor from Somaliland, recently returned from


working with MSF in Yemen, a country in the midst of ongoing civil war.
Over his 10-month assignment, he worked at an MSF hospital in Ad
Dhale, a district in southern Yemen and another in the north of the
country. In August, MSF was forced to evacuate staff from six hospitals
in northern Yemen following the aerial bombing of Abs Hospital in the
Hajjah governorate. It was the fourth and deadliest attack on an MSFsupported medical facility during this war.

The bulk of Essas time was spent working in Qattaba, which is close to
three active frontlines. Most of my work in the country focused on
treating the war-wounded and survivors of road traffic accidents. The
roads in Yemen are bad and many people travel on motorbikes without
the necessary headgear, causing severe head injuries during accidents,
he explains.
Essa also treated an overwhelming number of people seriously injured
by air strikes, hand grenades, gunshots and mortar rounds. Around 15
to 20 war-wounded patients came into the hospital in Qattaba each day,
says Essa. I saw a lot of trauma cases people who suffered gunshots to
the head and abdomen. Some people were seriously injured with
wounds all over their bodies. My work was urgent and stressful. Deciding
which patient to treat first was difficult.
The fighting and checkpoints made accessing critical medical supplies
and carrying out emergency referrals to bigger, better equipped hospitals
difficult. He often worked amid the sounds of gunshots and bombings.

Doctor Essa Djama in the field.


The severity of the war meant Essa and his colleagues werent ever
allowed out of the compound housing the MSF hospital and staff
residence. My life revolved around work and home, he says. I couldnt
go outside for a second and had to ask local colleagues to buy items I
wanted from the shops. I kept going by never forgetting I was in Yemen
in service of a community in great need. We also stayed motivated by
cooking delicious meals.
On several occasions, the fighting got so bad that the team had enter a
safe room, with a fortified door for protection. Essa also worried about

his safety and that of his patients when people arrived at the hospital
with guns. MSFs strict No Guns policy means weapons are left outside.
In Yemen, nearly everyone carries a gun, says Essa. I was also
frightened that the hospitals we worked in would get bombed. When my
friends and family heard of the hospital bombings in Sadah and Taiz,
they were so worried about me. I received hundreds of messages from
them.
Essa says he could handle the insecurity and strict safety regulations in
Yemen as it wasnt the first time hed experienced war. As a child, he
lived through the air strikes and checkpoints of the Somali civil wars in
the 90s.
He has previously worked in hospitals in Somaliland, which suffer
underfunding and a disrupted healthcare systems as a consequence of
the civil wars. The desire to better the quality of healthcare in my
country was my major motivation for becoming a doctor, says Essa.
Now he has extended his valuable skills to providing life-saving care in
Yemens devastated, war-torn communities.