Edna Adan Ismail
Founder and Administrator
Edna Adan Maternity Hospital, Somaliland
May 15, 2014
Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
The inaugural recipient of the Renfield Foundation Award for Global Women’s Health is Edna Adan Ismail, an inspiring advocate for women and girls, whose maternity hospital in Somaliland is an oasis of healing and care for the country’s women. Adan was nominated for this award by Nicholas Kristof, columnist for The New York Times and co-author of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. This book features Adan among its many stories, which serve as a call to action against the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.
Adan was born and raised in Somaliland, and was the first Somali girl to be awarded a scholarship to study in Britain. She studied nursing, midwifery and nursing management for seven years before returning to Somaliland, where she became the first qualified nurse-midwife in the country and the first Somali woman to drive a car.
Adan later married Somaliland’s prime minister, Ibrahim Egal, and she became the first lady of the country. After the two divorced, Adan joined the World Health Organization (WHO), where for years she advocated for the abolition of harmful traditional practices like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). When she retired from the WHO, she sold all of her possessions, and returned to Somaliland to build a hospital. The Edna Adan Maternity Hospital officially opened in 2002.
The health of the people of Somaliland is among the worst in Africa, with one of the highest Maternal and Infant mortality rates in the world. Every year, one baby in eight dies in infancy while nearly 4000 Somali women die in childbirth. The Maternity Hospital is dedicated to training fully-qualified health care professionals, and to training and dispatching 1000 midwives throughout the country. It also remains committed to Adan’s mission to fight the practice of FGM.
Edna Adan has been a passionate leader not only as a hands-on nurse in Somaliland, but also in building a hospital and a training system to produce more nurses and midwives to work in remote areas across her country. She has been a tireless force to end female genital cutting in her country. The result is that largely by force of will, Edna is saving lives every day — and putting in place public health systems that will save lives for many decades to come. She’s a force of nature, and it’s a privilege to watch her in action.
– Nicholas D. Kristof, Columnist for The New York Times and Co-Author, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide