PROFILES


"A well-cultivated mind is, so to speak, is made up of all the minds of preceding ages, it is only one single mind which has been educated during all this time" -- Fontenelle


Dr. Abdelmoneim M. Ali

A Gifted Doctor, Educator and Storyteller with Yemeno-mania

 

By Talaat I. Farag & Ahmed Toughan

 


Dr. Ali with foreign doctors at Sana'a Hospital in 1959.

Nearly fifty years ago, our mutual friend, Dr. Abdelmoneim Mohamed Ali,  was shocked when he joined Sana'a Hospital as a surgeon and served also as the medical doctor for the Yemeni army in 1959. He noticed that there were no birth certificates, no death certificates, no sanitized water, no sewage system, no immunization, and a lack of medical services outside the range of the only three modest hospitals in Sana'a, Taiz and Hodaidah. The services were extremely elementary everywhere with few qualified doctors. These were only accessible in the urban centers. Infant mortality was incredibly high and incidence of infectious and nutritional diseases were also high. Registries of newborns were absent. Dr. Ali also noticed significant numbers of parasitic worms especially then-rampant dracuncolus medinensis (Medina worm) which ravaged many communities. He was also surprised and dismayed by the ongoing replacement of coffee bean fields with qat (known to some as the "flower of paradise") fields throughout the country which seemed to indicate and increasing disregard for country's development.

One the 26th of September 1962, a dramatic change transformed Yemen and a republic was born. From 1962 till 1972, Dr. Ali served as the director of Sana'a Hospital, Chancellor to the Minister of Health, the head of the civilian Egyptian Medical Mission to Yemen, and the personal physician of then-President Abdullah El-Sallal. Dr. Ali published many articles about Yemen in Egyptian, Yemeni and Kuwaiti magazines. He is the author of a seminal 527-page book published in 1971 chronicling the history of health care in Yemen, entitled "The Development of Healthcare Services in Yemen." During his 7 year experience in Yemen, he became a chronic lover of the country, which loved him back, to the extent that he represented Yemen in the WHO conference in Geneva in 1964. Upon returning to Egypt, he worked for the Ministry of Health and became involved in the World Health Organization in Geneva and the Middle East office in Alexandria and Cairo, becoming a key figure in the Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office (EMRO) headquarters.

In the last issue of the Ambassadors Magazine, we presented the books by our mutual friends HE Mohsen El-Einy, the former Prime Minister of Yemen and the distinguished journalist Youssef El-Sherif (author of a new book entitled Yemen & the People of Yemen published by Dar El-Shorook in Cairo). This challenged us to present the profile of Dr. Abdelmoneim Mohammed Ali and present the book and the profile of the man behind the encyclopaedic archives of the evolution of medical services in the 'Happy' Yemen.

One of the chapters focuses on the Egyptian aid services to Yemen which covered all areas including medicine, media, agriculture, banking, customs, education, and other sectors whose project was to assist the development of Yemen and in an attempt to build a new nation. Director of Egyptian Aid to Yemen, Chancellor Ahmed Fouad Abuloyoon. When he first traveled to Yemen with the mission, he found that there were no laws in the books for the administration of finance, politics, jurisprudence etc. During this time, it was necessary to build an infrastructure for a modern state including various sectors to manage public services. During this time, these developments facilitated the creation of 30 specialized companies including a locally-owned pharmaceutical company. The Egyptian team in Yemen, which was comprised of more than 1000 civilian expertise in all areas of specialization, focused greatly on building educational and infrastructural services, which developed swiftly at all levels from kindergarten to high schools, covering scientific, economic, and agricultural fields. In addition to being offered sponsored educational-scholarships in Egyptian colleges and universities. Their work alongside the Egyptian military specialists helped in the birth of the new Yemen and its advancement of five centuries in a short span of five years!  

Dr. Ali's book includes a precious study written by HE Dr. Salah Hedayat presenting the mapping of natural resources including geological compounds including metals, minerals, and oil.

 

Dr. Ali With Yemeni Minister of Health, H.E. Hussein Al-Maqoddami

Dr. Ali worked closely with former Yemeni Ministers of Health: Ali Mohamed Said, Hussein al-Maqoddami, Mohamed Kamel El-Wasey, Mohammed Abdel Wadood, and Mohamed Kayd El-Aghbary. H.E. Hussein el-Maqoddami was the second Minister of Health in Yemen and held that position on 8 different occasions. He was director of the Hudayidah Hospital before the revolution, but following the assassination of the Imam Ahmed on the hospital grounds he was taken into custody and released only following the revolution, and was appointed to the position of deputy minister of health under H.E. Ali Mohamed Said. In his era as Minister of Health, Egyptian physicians, nurses and technicians arrived during this period. While in office, al-Maqoddami created the first committee for medical service planning during which large-scale infrastructural projects were to expand and improve services. The Health care system focussed on many aspects: preventive medicine, curative medicine, statistical department, and medical personnel training. A system of 5-year healthcare plans was initiated for the first time in his era. In a rare photo, Dr. Ali is seen with H.E. al-Maqoddami in Al-Hijariya Hospital with its Egyptian doctor, Dr. Ahmed Suleiman.

In his book, Dr. Ali quotes H.E. al-Maqoddami saying in 1965, "The importing of medicine was not an easy task, there were many hurdles to achieving it. Whether the medications were expensive to purchase or transport, special permission had to be acquired from the Imam in order to bring it to Yemen. Even more astonishing and unbelievable was the fact that the Imam himself was the person who would prescribe the medication to all Yemeni patients." Further to this story, he also noted another story about the spread of smallpox in Ibb province saying, "The illness killed thousands of Yemeni people, and at this time while the small pox was spreading rapidly, there was a very big amount of the vaccine against it at the Imam's palace. The vaccine was close to them, yet so far away since the Imam denied them the right to having it."

 

The Evolution of Medical Services in Yemen

The former representative of WHO in Sana'a, Dr. Mohammed Ali Badreldeen, reported that "although Yemen was a member in the UN, yet during the Imam's era, it was not welcoming of the UN agencies to work in the country. In July 1956, after 8 years since the establishment of the WHO, the regional office in Alexandria was capable of creating an on-site office and free clinic in Sana'a in 1957."

In 1968, the Associated Press published a report from Yemen following the departure of the Egyptian forces, noting, "the Yemeni people are speaking about Egyptians with sympathy, since Yemen moved rapidly to the 20th century during their presence, such as paved roads in Sana'a, advanced machinery, electrical stations, and many hospitals in various areas in the country which are managed by trained Yemenis."

 

Dr. Ali in the Field

Dr. Abdelmoneim M. Ali was a prominent figure at the EMRO-WHO offices and an editor for the Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal. His unlimited love for Yemen helped him find educational placements for many Yemeni aspiring doctors, nurses, technicians and administrators to be trained in Egypt and elsewhere. Also, his effort as a consultant to many Yemeni ministers of health fostered excellent relations among different countries and helped in securing aid grants to establish and build new hospitals and clinics throughout all Yemeni provinces and create the first major immunization system in the country.

In Dr. Ali's book, there are many studies about different diseases done by Egyptian doctors from the period between 1962-1967. One of these studies was written by the first cardiologist to arrive in Yemen, Dr. Mokhtar Gomaa, who later became the dean of Al-Azhar Medical College (Egypt), about cardio-vascular diseases in Sana'a province and his admiration to the effort of the young enthusiastic Yemeni assistants. The ophthalmologist Dr. Mahmoud Sami El-Hefni did an excellent job in combating many infectious ocular diseases during his service in Yemen. Dr. Ali's book produced a unique and genuine account of the role of military doctors who reached areas never before visited by physicians and surgeons who performed thousands of operations and treated scores of patients. The volume offers diligent statistical reports of these expeditions.

 

Today, modern Yemen which was birthed by caesarean section presents a different picture than the one Dr. Ali witnessed on his first visit in 1959. There are now well-established medical colleges not just in Sana'a and Aden but also in other provinces. The instruction for the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy at the University of Aden commenced in 1975 and the establishment of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences in the University of Sana'a occurred in 1982. The society has also transformed greatly from one which is based primarily on tribalism to one with a unified sense of nationalism.

While preparing the fourth article in the series entitled "1001 Nights in Old and Modern Yemen" we visited our mutual friend Dr. Ali's house in Heliopolis, Egypt. We were delighted to see upon entering his house a multilingual library of books on Yemen and a wall of large framed photographs of the beautiful Sana'a, reflecting the shifting relationship between the old and contemporary city buildings. The life of this gifted Egyptian medical doctor, educator, storyteller, and chronic lover of Yemen, cannot be separated from his diaries presented in his one-of-a-kind book which includes many rare photos and drawings that present life in the 'happy' Yemen nearly half a century ago. Here are a few selected photographs and images featured in his documentary book.

\
Traditional Yemeni dance, "Al-Boree" in (1966).


Yemeni men sitting in a qat-chewing and shisha smoking session (1967).

 


Member of Al-Hada'a tribe


A member of Gama'a tribe.


Sheik from Mourad tribe in Yemen.

 


Dr. Ali outside a clinic at a mosque in 1960.


Consultant radiologist Dr. Abdelhakim Abdelaal,
Sana'a Hospital in 1965.


The first Yemeni paediatric hospital in Suq al-Baqr,
Sana'a in 1964.

 

 
Modernizing medical services in Yemen (1967).


Training programs for the young Yemen lab technicians supervised by Mohamed Abdel-Latif.

 

 


Dr. Ali with Yemeni officials at the opening of a new hospital in 1967.


Dr. Ali with Al-Rahda governor, undersecretary of Ministry of Health,
and director of Al-Rahda Hospital Dr. Mohamed Abdelhadi in 1964.

 


Heir to the throne, Mohamed al-Badr with members of his family at an outdoor celebration in 1959.


Canada-Arab Business Council (CABC) mission to Yemen in 2005.

 

 

Further Readings:

1. T.I.Farag and A.S.Toughan. "Return  to Aden:" Rediscovering Yemen, the land of a thousand tales (Part I). The Ambassadors Magazine, Vol. 4, Issue 1 (Jan 2001)
2. T.I.Farag and A.S.Toughan.1001 NIGHTS IN OLD AND MODERN YEMEN (Part II). The Ambassadors Magazine, Vol. 4, Issue 2 (July 2001)
3. T.I.Farag and A.S.Toughan.1001 NIGHTS IN OLD AND MODERN YEMEN (Part III). The Ambassadors Magazine, Vol. 5, Issue 1 (Jan 2002)

 


 T. I. Farag


A. S. Toughan

Prof. Talaat I. Farag, MD,FRCP,FACP,FACMG is a former adjunct professor at Dalhousie University in Canada. He is the founder and director of The Ambassadors Research Foundation in 1998. Email: tfarag@dal.ca.
 

Mr. Ahmed S. Toughan, the international politico-social cartoonist is a co-founders of Al-Gomhorriya daily newspaper (Egypt, 1953) and of The Ambassadors Online Magazine (Canada, 1998). Email: toughan@access.com.eg  

 

 



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