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An Afternoon with Internationally Renowned Speaker Dr. Edna Adan Ismail

11 September 2023


Meet Cardiff University's Honorary Fellow, midwife and hospital director who spoke to healthcare students in April about her career in training healthcare workers and advocating against female genital mutilation worldwide.

Within the global healthcare sector, there is a strong need for public health and harm reduction. So that they can provide the best care for everyone, healthcare students must understand the challenges associated with their roles, and how they can support a diverse range of patients in a multitude of healthcare settings, some with a multitude of resources and others with very few. Through building understanding, they will be better able to improve patient outcomes, and demonstrate higher levels of compassion and understanding of social inequalities.

Calling in from Somaliland, Dr. Edna Adan Ismail informed Cardiff’s second year Bachelor of Nursing students studying global health on some of the challenges she overcame and barriers she has helped break throughout her impressive career. She also highlighted how she has helped train, sustain services, and educate many individuals not just in Somaliland, but across the world to be strong, effective, confident, and compassionate future practitioners.

When Somaliland gained its independence in 1991, the country was left with only 18 nurses and midwives and 13 medical doctors to treat a country larger than the UK. After finishing her long career with the WHO, Edna knew that she wanted to go back to Somaliland and help shape the future of healthcare in her home country. When she returned in 1997, she was given a small stretch of land on a rubbish tip to not only turn into a hospital, but also to train its first cohort of nurses and midwives. It was then that she trained 42 Somaliland nurses, and since then, she has gone on to train over 1000 nurses, lab technicians, pharmacists and midwives. Through her pioneering work to improve the quality of hospital services and educating healthcare workers, she has helped shape the future of healthcare, and set a new standard of care in multiple hospitals across Somaliland.

With calls for prayers heard in the background, she enthusiastically continued to speak to Cardiff students about her advocacy work against female genital mutilation (FGM), the harmful practice of deliberate removal of external female genitalia. As a woman who had undergone FGM and has seen many women with FGM give birth for the first time and the complications that ensued, it sparked Dr Edna’s need to campaign. After years of advocacy, more difficult conversations are being had around this topic. Somaliland has now also issued a fatwa, a religious edict, banning FGM. Despite this, nearly 75% of women seen in Somaliland’s delivery rooms have still undergone FGM. The practice of FGM is illegal  in the UK, yet cases are still being discovered. Healthcare professionals continue to advocate for patients’ rights, and giving women and families affected the care they deserve no matter the circumstance. After Dr. Edna Adan Ismail’s talk, it’s important to take time and reflect on how staff and students can learn from her powerful story.

‘This was such an interesting lecture which I have really enjoyed and found really engaging.'
Autumn '21 Student Nurse

We would like to thank Senior Lecturer, Diana De in the School of Healthcare Sciences for organising this interprofessional learning opportunity and Dr. Edna Adan Ismail once again for speaking to our nursing, midwifery and SCPHN students. It was a pleasure welcoming her to our campus virtually, and we hope she can visit Cardiff University students and staff in-person in the future.

If you would like to read more about her incredible story, her book ‘A Woman of Firsts’ is freely available via the University’s library services.

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