The Medical Mission
Dr. Edna Adan Ismail

Any single profession descriptor would be inadequate to cover the career of Edna Adan Ismail, whose background in nursing and midwifery fueled her involvement in childbirth and child care initiatives worldwide and remained a passion when she accompanied her late husband, the prime minister of Somalia, on state visits to the United States and European nations as First Lady of Somalia. Until 2006, she served as minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of Somaliland, whose officially unrecognized status doesn’t bother her. “I would rather be the minister of foreign affairs of Somaliland than the minister of foreign affairs of some countries. I am proud of Somaliland,” Edna said.

Born in Somalia, she studied in the United Kingdom, where she is a state registered nurse and state registered midwife. She returned to Somalia as the nation’s first qualified nurse-midwife and subsequently became the first female to obtain a senior post in the Civil Service.

Long service in the World Health Organization (WHO) – she served as educator, advisor and regional technical officer for maternal/child health and family planning – culminated in her appointment as WHO representative to the Republic of Djibouti, during which time she also served as president of the United Nations AIDS program. She was a founding member and vice president of the Inter-African Committee for Traditional Practices Affecting Health of Women and Children, subsequently serving as WHO/EMRO regional technical officer for maternal/child health and family planning.

No stranger to the adversity of political upheavals, Edna’s activism led to her detainment and house arrest during Somalia’s military coup. She began building a hospital in Mogadishu; before its completion, Somalia’s civil war broke out and she was forced to leave the country; her property was forcibly occupied by local warlords.

In the early 1990s, she returned to Hargeisa, Somaliland, where from the ground up she built the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital. Lacking the trained nurses necessary to staff the facility, Edna recruited candidates and began training them while the hospital was still under construction. The teaching hospital, which also trains assistant laboratory technicians, graduated its first class of 30 registered nurses in 2003 and its first group of 27 midwives in 2004.

Besides her post in foreign affairs, she also served Somaliland as minister of family welfare and social development, and is president of the Somali Studies International Association and Somaliland: the Organization for Victims of Torture.

She’s been honored with the 2002 AMANITARE Award for Africa as well as being decorated by the Republic of Djibouti with the Commandeur de l’Ordre National du 27 Juin in recognition of the services rendered to the Health Services of Djibouti while she was WHO representative. She remains a frequent international presenter on subjects of female genital mutilation, gender and human rights, and maternal and child health care. She holds an honorary doctor of humane letters from Clark University, Massachusetts.