NHS Volunteers Backed by UK Aid Are Training Hundreds of Doctors in Somaliland
They’re helping doctors, nurses, and midwives learn more skills.
Hospitals are scary.
There’s all those wailing newborn babies, and the terrifying future that comes with it: actual responsibility, a lifetime of Peppa Pig, the birds, the bees. Then there’s aging loved ones, unwelcome surprises, bedside goodbyes — and as is often the case with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), a beautiful tapestry of support and compassion when life gets tough.
But that machine is built on human beings: doctors, nurses, midwives, and more, often stretched beyond their means, but with years of experience, training, and assistance that, according to some reports, makes UK health care one of the best systems in the world.
One of the best ideas to improve global health is to simply copy what works — and the NHS is perfectly placed to share what it’s learned over the past 72 years.
Conversely, Somaliland is at the opposite end of the spectrum. While the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a minimum of 2.3 doctors, nurses, and midwives per 1,000 people for adequate health care, Somaliland records just 0.29.
Somaliland has some of the worst health care indicators in the world. But one of its biggest problems is something the NHS has been able to help with: a critical shortage of well-trained health workers.
Since April 2019, the NHS has teamed up with universities across the UK to help train students in Somaliland to prepare for clinical practice. Right now, there is very little support for trainees, and yet they are expected to make life and death decisions right from graduation.
But the “Prepared for Practice” project, run by King’s Global Health Partnerships and funded by Britain’s lifesaving UK aid budget, has been working on transforming education for these students to mould the health workers of the future and spark a wave of systemic change.
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The first part of this programme involves direct teaching. Medical students from three partner universities in Somaliland take a variety of courses on clinical practice taught by NHS volunteers and UK university staff via a digital platform called MedicineAfrica. They’re all super practical — the idea is that it covers material not otherwise taught that will improve workplace performance.
In 18 months, 522 student doctors and nurses — of whom 231 are female, and 291 are male — have been enrolled in these courses. The sessions encourage discussion and feedback too, so students can work out their questions and improve their training on their own terms.
“We like that we can ask more questions than face-to-face; we talk about real examples,” said one midwifery student from Edna Adan University. A nursing student from the same university added: “The case discussion is preparing us to be better nurses to be able to act on interventions.”
Health Professions Education Course teaching for faculty at Hargeisa University, Amoud University and Edna Adan University Credit: King’s Global Health Partnerships
The second part focuses on building the skills of teachers and administrative staff to deliver better courses.
Overall, 77 staff members have been trained so far, ensuring educational institutions become better managed and teaching practices can be perfected with a real focus on the students. That doesn’t just mean more health workers. That means better health workers too.
When the project was first funded by UK aid — the only part of the national budget dedicated to tackling extreme poverty and its systematic root causes — the investment would have come from Britain’s Department of International Development (DfID).
However, in September, DfID merged with the UK Foreign Office to create the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) — a move that experts say could make aid spending less transparent, less accountable, and less effective.
With rumours having circulated that the UK aid budget could be scrapped altogether, it’s vital to remember the very human impact of that funding. In Somaliland, that means more doctors, nurses, and midwives better equipped to deal with health crises. Elsewhere, that means saving the lives of children with essential medicines in South Sudan; solar power that powers hospitals in Kenya; and looking after pregnant mums with the most effective technology in Sierra Leone.
Hospitals don’t have to be so scary. But people need to believe in them first.
"Prepared for Practice" is part of the UK aid-funded Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform (SPHEIR) programme (www.spheir.org.uk). SPHEIR is managed on behalf of the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office by a consortium led by the British Council that includes PwC and Universities UK International.
This story is part of a new series from Global Citizen called “UK Aid Works” — a collection of stories about health care development projects supported by Britain’s aid budget, collated by Action for Global Health UK (AfGH), an influential membership network convening more than 50 organisations working in global health.
In September, the Department for International Development (DfID) merged with the Foreign Office (FCO) to form the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO). At a time when the future of poverty-focused aid is under threat, it’s crucial that we hold onto programmes like these that focus on the world’s most vulnerable people. These stories are about the types of initiatives that we must strive to protect. You can check out more stories like this here — and call on the foreign secretary to ensure that aid is transparent and accountable here