MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Hundreds of Somalis squeeze between two concrete blast barriers at an African Union peacekeeping base in the Somali capital.
Military vehicles wait to take the sick and injured several miles (km) past the barrier to a tented clinic where 450 patients a day come in from Mogadishu’s war-battered streets for treatment.
“My baby had an attack of diarrhea yesterday. I was forced to rush her to the Ugandan clinic, because the medicine is excellent and free,” said Fadumo Aden, resting her 5-month old baby on her lap.
Uganda was the first of two countries to send soldiers for the African Union (AU) peacekeeping force to Somalia, torn by an Islamist-led insurgency against Somali and Ethiopian troops.
The 2,200 AU soldiers have been unable to stem the violence and -- like their mission in Sudan’s Darfur region -- complain of being under-funded and under-staffed.
But the tented hospital has been a rare bright spot in Mogadishu, providing desperately-needed healthcare to the population and giving the soldiers more of a sense of purpose.
Even so, the military doctors say they do not have enough medicine for the patients, whose country has suffered near-incessant civil war since 1991.
“We used to treat as many patients as we could, but now by midday, the drugs are finished, and we have to pack up and leave the patients,” said Joseph Asea, head of the field hospital.
“Sometimes we prescribe medicine for them to buy from the markets, but they say drugs sold outside are either fake or expired,” he added, amid patients waiting outside white tents.
After so much conflict, Somalia’s own hospitals remain sparse and barely functional.
More than 7,000 people have been killed and 8,000 wounded since the interim government and its Ethiopia allies ousted the Islamists from Mogadishu in late 2006.
Since then, Islamist insurgents have been fighting back.
The African Union has struggled to persuade other nations to honor their initial pledges to deploy troops to the Horn of Africa nation, plagued by near-daily roadside bombs and shootouts.
“The troops we have on the ground are not capable of taking on all the tasks we are assigned in Mogadishu,” force spokesman Barigye Ba-Hoku said.
“If we get enough troops with the logistical support from our international partners, we can think of loading out into other areas outside Mogadishu.”
Uganda has 1,600 troops in Mogadishu, and Burundi has sent 600 more -- but those numbers are a far cry from the 8,000 required by the continental body, eager to put into practice its stated goal of providing African solutions for African problems.
Despite the lack of troops and funds, Somalis say the peacekeepers’ hospital has brought them hope.
“I have gone to every clinic but I could not get better. Now I can hardly move,” said Fardowsa Abdulqadir, lying weakened by liver disease on a worn-out mattress in the small hospital.
“The Ugandan doctors told me I have to be x-rayed. Then I hope they will cure me.”
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Editing by Jack Kimball