In Somalia 108 out of 1,000 newborn children die before their first birthday. Both infant and maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the world. Khadra Ahmed Hassan is a trained midwife and for the past two years she has been one of 24 students attending a web-based Master's Programme in Sexual and Reproductive Health, in collaboration with the University of Dalarna in Sweden.
"When I got the chance to further my education, I really wanted to take it. Through the course, I have had the opportunity to expand and deepen my knowledge in many areas", says Khada Ahmed Hassan.
Dalarna University provides the course with a web-based learning platform, streamed and recorded lectures, and seminars in real-time using web-conferencing.
"For the Master's Programme we have selected dedicated students who are able to contribute to the development of maternity care in Somalia. In the future many of them will take on the role as trainer, manager of health organizations or work within the government", says Khadra Eli Egal, course coordinator at Hargeisa University.
However, it has not been an entirely easy task. Normally a Master's degree takes one year to complete but the course organizers in Dalarna and Hargeisa quickly realized that the students needed to work while they were studying. They also needed to complete their basic education and improve their English.
The study programme is in many ways different from what the students are used to.
"It is not so much about filling in the right answers, but to understand the context and be able to reason our way to a good solution. Ethical issues are also important, and as far as I recall this was never touched upon during my undergraduate studies", explains Master's student Khadra Ahmed Hassan.
The coordinator Khadra Ali Egal emphasizes that the training also makes the midwives aware of issues that are normally not included in the training, such as violence against women and female genital mutilation.
The lecturers from Dalarna visit Hargeisa every third month to conduct exams and go through the next course module. Kerstin Erlandsson coordinates the project at Dalarna University:
"Dalarna University is a leader in web-based learning, and there is a very strong commitment to global health issues among our staff."
Kerstin Erlandsson, who has previously worked in Nepal and Somalia, speaks of the strong commitment among the persons she has met during the project.
"There is a lot of talk about brain drain and of educated people leaving Africa as soon as they get the chance. But the persons we train want to stay to rebuild the country and they are joined by Somalis who return from."
Expansion into more areas
The University is located in Hargesia, which is the capital of Somaliland, a de facto independent country that formally belongs to Somalia. The idea is to expand the web-based learning programme to other parts of Somalia.
"It is difficult to find trained teachers who are willing to move to regions where there is war and conflict. In this context a web-based educational programme is a great advantage. The technique has worked well in Somaliland, so from that perspective I am hopeful", Kerstin Erlandsson adds.
Within the framework of the project Dalarna University will, together with students and staff, collect data from cases where the mother and the baby barely survived. The purpose is to identify problems within the health care system and develop solutions.
For Master's student Khadra Ahmed Hassan the programme allows her the opportunity to further develop her professional skills, while she contributes to Somaliland's development.
"I notice a change, especially among young people, in how they view some of our traditions. Most of the young persons I meet oppose genital mutilation."
Source -Sida Sweden