Somalis turn to Dr Hyena to fight depression, mental illness


March 02, 2020


File – Mohamed Sheikh Yakub, a patient suffering with mental illness, sits inside the treatment room where a hyena believed to exorcise evil spirits that cause mental illness is secured in a cage, in Hodan district of Mogadishu, Somalia February 15, 2020. Picture taken February 15, 2020. REUTERS/Feisal Omar


By Abdi Sheikh


MOGADISHU (REUTERS) – The growls from the caged hyena reverberate through the room as Mohamed Sheikh Yakub slumps silently in a chair nearby, hoping the animal will frighten away the evil spirits he says have troubled him since his divorce.

The traditional treatment – rooted in the belief that hyenas can devour the ‘jinns’ or spirits widely blamed in the region for depression and mental illness – takes place in a sweltering shack in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu.

The Horn of Africa nation, which has suffered decades of civil war, only has three trained psychiatrists, the World Health Organization says.

In the absence of conventional therapies, many people are turning to traditional healers including Yakub’s exorcist – a spry 70-year-old called Aden Igaal who goes by the name of Dr. Hyena.

Medics at the capital’s Turkish-funded Erdogan Hospital say there is no scientific basis for the treatment. “I don’t think it can help,” said neurosurgeon Dr. Nur Abdullahi Karshe.

Psychiatric nurse Abdirahman Ali Awale, known as ‘Dr. Habeeb’, says he always encourages people to get clinical rather than traditional treatment. “I am trying to educate them to not go to the hyenas,” he said.

But patients at Dr. Hyena’s shack and their families say they have little choice given the shortage of alternatives.

Fatuma Ahmed says she took her 13-year-old daughter to Dr Hyena after giving up on other avenues.

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