Dec 3, 2008

World - Mogadishu gets ambulance service

The conflict-wracked Somali capital of Mogadishu has an ambulance service for the first time in nearly two decades.

Five ambulances with a team of nurses will answer calls from patients to a new 24-hour emergency 777 helpline.

A BBC reporter in the capital says wounded people, many bleeding to death, are usually transported to the city's hospitals on wheelbarrows or taxis.

Somalia has been engulfed by chaos since President Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.

The volatile capital is the scene of frequent battles between Islamist forces and government soldiers, backed by Ethiopian troops who have been in the country for two years.

Top priority

The BBC's Mohamed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu says the new fleet of ambulances will be based in the city's main market, the stage for many bloody confrontations.

Under the free service, introduced on Tuesday, casualties with serious and life-threatening conditions will receive top priority.

The scheme was provided with the help of Irish-based charity Lifeline Africa Foundation.

"People have been taken on wheelbarrows to the hospitals so we want to end that," Rufa'i Mohamed Salad, of Lifeline Africa in Mogadishu, said.

A telecommunication firm in Mogadishu, NationLink, installed the new helpline and its operators will divert 777 calls from their control room to new ambulance despatch centres.

The system has been welcomed by residents and medics.

Dr Dahir Mohamed Mohamed Mohamud, the head of Mogadishu's Medina Hospital, said: "I am very happy because it is the first time we've witnessed it. It is a medical step forward."

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