Religious Leaders Hold Key to Somali Question

With decreasing clout of the warlords and faction leaders, the onus to Somalia's revival now largely rests on religious leaders, says Dr.

Steven Lauwuerier, a UNCIEF project officer in Somalia.

Speaking to AANA in Nairobi recently, Dr. Steven said whether wars against HIV/AIDS, illiteracy and other social malaise plaguing Somalia are to be won depends on the level of engagement the international community accords religious leaders.

He said that although HIV/AIDS prevalence in Somalia is still low (0.8 percent on average) the higher number of Somali returnees from neighbouring states of Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, (countries with high incidences of HIV/AIDS), coupled with high incidences of TB and STDs within Somalia itself, is cause for concern.

Public awareness of HIV/AIDS in Somalia is quite low and data on prevalence and risk behaviour is limited. Only recently, for the first time, a couple declared their HIV-positive status in public, a move that Dr. Steven said, was encouraging others to have a second look at the scourge.

Within a quick succession, others have also come forward bringing the total number of individuals now confirmed being infected with HIV to nine.

Survival remains the key issue in Somalia, but along with continuing support to basic services in health, education and water, protection of the rights of children and women must be guaranteed.

According to Jasper Morch, UNICEF Country Representative for Somalia, there is high mortality rate over most regions of Somalia, and statistics for children are no better.

He said that the average maternal mortality rate of 160 per 10000 was caused by high number of mothers denied access to health facilities, coupled with widespread practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), early marriages and general delays to seek medical expertise.

The infant mortality rate currently stands at 132 per 1000 births. In some parts of the country, 1 in 4 children exhibits symptoms of malnutrition. Only 17 percent of Somalia's 3.4 million children of eligible school age are receiving primary education.