Somalia Mourns the Death of Its Best Known Neurologist – Dr Mohamed Abbas Omar

Dr. Mohamed Abbas (Right) and Dr. Mohamed Jama Salad (Left) at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya

by Dr Mohamed Abbas Omar

The sad news about the death of Professor Mohamed Jama Salad has spread fast and far within Somalia and beyond its shores. His death shocked the country and it will take a long time for the healthcare sector in Somalia to come to grips with this loss. I offer my heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and to his close co-workers in Galkayo hospital and to members of the Somali healthcare sector in general.

Professor Mohamed Jama was Somalia’s first doctor to be trained as a neurosurgeon in early 1960s. He was an internationally renowned neurosurgeon, a member of the world neurosurgical family, and arguably, the best neurologist Somalia has ever produced.

When I received the heartbreaking news, I encountered the difficulty to find words with which to express a sorrow so deep. All I could do was to console myself with a verse from the Qur’an, which we refer to in times of grief and sorrow in order to get solace:  “To Allah we belong, and to Him is our return” (Qur’an 2:156).

We last met on a chilly Saturday morning in Nairobi on August 6, 2016, and then found ourselves on the same plane flying to Garowe, the administrative capital of Puntland State in north-eastern Somalia. At that time, I was serving as Puntland’s State Minister for Presidency and International Cooperation, and just concluded official meetings with a number of foreign embassies and international organizations. While sitting in the airport terminal, waiting for departure, Professor Mohamed Jama told me that he just came back from South Africa, where he presented a research paper at an international neurosurgery conference organized by the Society of Neurosurgeons of South Africa, which was held from 25 – 29 July 2016 in Cape Town.

During our chat in the three and half hour flight, we discussed how the government and private sector in Puntland can cooperate to deliver the much needed basic social services. Listening to a towering figure like Professor Mohamed Jama, I have taken all his suggestions into consideration and was very much convinced that we would meet again. Little did we factor death into our calculations.

The First Time I Met with Professor Mohamed Jama:

I first met him at his private clinic during my teens in 1990, just months before the civil war broke out in Somalia. His private clinic was located on the second floor of the National Business Centre (NBC) building in the Somali capital. The NBC building was then a famous landmark known to Mogadishu residents as Nacaskii Bangiga Cunay(NBC), a funny acronyms that means in Somali: “the Foolish man who robbed the bank” in reference to the owner of the building who – after just being the governor of the Central Bank of Somalia in a very short period of time – turned into a millionaire, owning such a commercial property.

On that day, the clinic was full of patients and I was complaining from a headache thought to be a migraine. But after a quick checkup, nothing popped up, I was finally cleared as a young man in perfect health, fine and fit as fiddle. Giving me a pat on the back as dads do their sons, Doctor Mohamed Jama told me to go home and advised me to have enough sleep and be cautious of hitting my head frequently with soccer ball.

I knew I had no health issues to complain, nor any neurological complaints, but the reason of my visit could be that of a young man who was just interested to be examined by the best neurologist in the country, even if complaining from a minor headache. In those days, health insurance was not a term that could be found in our dictionary, let alone to have one, but nevertheless, I was not worried about paying consultation fees to a specialist. I was from an ordinary Somali middle class family whose father was a senior staff with 27 years of experience at theDLCO-EA (Desert Locust Control Organization for East Africa), a regional inter-governmental organization that had the mandate to carry out operations and forecast techniques against upsurges and plagues of the desert locust as well as of the grain-eating birds and the tsetse insects that could transmits deadly diseases to humans.

Short Biography of Professor Mohamed Jama Salad:

  • Born in Galkayo city in central Somalia in 1944.
  • Went to Primary School in Galkacyo.
  • Intermediate and High School: Collegio Nuovo Somalia in Mogadishu, run by the Italian colonial administration.
  • 1964: He received a scholarship from the Italian government to study Medicine at the University of Bolongna, Italy.
  • Postgraduate (Master’s Degree) in Neurosurgery at theUniversity of Turin, Italy.
  • Back to Somalia in 1980, and was appointed by the Somali government as an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Medicine, Somali National University in Mogadishu, where he founded the Department of Neurosurgery and Clinical Neurophysiology.
  • Consultant Neurosurgeon at Medina Hospital, the old police hospital in Mogadishu.
  • After the civil war broke out in Somalia, he went back to Italy and became a Professor of neurosurgery at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, and at the same time, Head of of the Department of Neurosurgey atAurelia Hospital.
  • Head of the Department of Neurosurgery, Policlinico Umberto Primo Hospital,Italy.
  • Member of the Board of Editors in the Pan-African Journal of Neulogical Sciences (AJNS).
  • Back to Somalia in 2000, and founded the Department of Neurosurgey at Mudug Regional Hospital in Galkayo, the city of his birth.He worked there until his death.
  • Passed away on Aug 8, 2017 in Policlinico Umberto Primo Hospital in Rome, aged 73 after suffering from a pancreatic cancer that spread to his liver and small intestine.
  • He was buried in Galkacyo – his birth place – on August 19, 2017.

He Will Be Remembered for His Contributions:

Mohamed Jama’s contributions and achievements in the healthcare sector are too numerous to list. Heleaves a legacy of unprecedented and unmatched contributions to the development of Neuroscience and Neurosurgery in Somalia, which will be cherished by many generations to come.

As Somalia has been the scene of frequent battles among warring factions for more than two decades, many civilians were severely hit in the head by stray bullets. In this dire situation, Mohamed Jama was famous for operating successfully on head and brain injuries that other international neurosurgeons consider inoperable or too high risk to operate. His patients used to come from all over the Somali-speaking territories in East Africa.

He was much lauded for his determination and commitment to work in his war-torn country and in a dire situation at a time when most of Somali doctors, healthcare workers and other professionals left the country and migrated to other countries for a better life, leaving Somalia behind to deal its own problems and heal its wounds. He was one of the main driving forces behind Somalia’s long journey to rebuild its ruined healthcare sector.

We grieve his demise in the knowledge that Somalia has lost a very valuable person: a great intellectual, a humble man, and above all: a highly qualified neurosurgeon with 50 years of extensive experience in neurosurgery under his belt.  He was a living example of best Somali doctors from the old generation before the civil war, and it is not going to be easy to get someone to fill his shoes.

May Allah (the Almighty) bless his soul.

Dr Mohamed Abbas Omar is a  former Puntland State Minister for Presidency and International Cooperation (2014 – 2016)

Melbourne, Australia

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Ummadda Media