This week, the pioneering work of Edna Adan Ismail was recognised by the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing where she received the inaugural Renfield Foundation Award for Global Women’s Health.  According to the selection criteria, the awardee’s work should have resulted in significant impact and increased the visibility of the issues facing the lives and health of women and girls.  (S)he should be a demonstrated leader in improving women’s health in the following areas:

– Advocating for policies and/or programmes that improve the lives and health of women

– Empowering women to lead their institutions, communities, nations and homes

– Forging innovative solutions to promote the health of women and girls

There could not be a more deserving awardee than our heroine. In the words of Nicholas Kristof, “..largely by force of will, Edna is saving lives every day – and putting in place public health systems that will save lives for many decades to come. She’s a force of nature, and it’s a privilege to watch her in action.”


In her acceptance speech, Edna explained how her hospital came to be and why training midwives is so important.  Here are a few extracts:

“My country Somaliland has known every tragedy – I see the devastation.  There is no other option but to do what you can to help.. I just recycled my whole life – I liked my Mercedes, but now I wait for the bus and measure my life in bedpans and hospital supplies. My choice is to do whatever I can for as long as I can.

The story of my hospital is the story of my country – it starts with my hometown Hargeisa, where girls could not go to school..  War, poverty, and lack of health access is killing our people.  Women lag behind in education, jobs, economic development and political empowerment.  Women in my country are beasts of burden – they carry the firewood, the water, whatever needs to be carried.. Women who have birth complications cannot be taken to the hospital without their husband’s, father’s or brother’s consent. 

Most of our people are nomadic – how do you provide access to schools, jobs and healthcare?..  Having educated midwives in the community saves lives.. 103 community midwives have been trained so far for the districts.  My goal is to train as many midwives as we can. We recruit trusted women from the communities who make a difference, help women survive.  These midwives also help us convince women to consider ‘child spacing’..

I don’t want whatever I have done to die with me – these midwives carry the message I have lived for.  Today Somaliland has 97 Maternal and Child Health Centres and 200 Health Posts spread throughout the country, and 7 midwifery schools.”


In response to this powerful address, Dean Afaf Meleis said of Edna: ‘Inspiring, can do and DOES.’  We couldn’t agree more!



Press release from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing here.

Watch Nicholas Kristof introduce Edna Adan Ismail here.

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