Dr. Edna Adan Ismail poses for a photograph in London in May 2023 as shown in this image released by the Templeton Prize. The 2023 Templeton Prize, one of the biggest annual individual honours in the world, was presented to Ismail, a nurse-midwife, hospital founder, and healthcare champion who has spent decades fighting female circumcision and working to improve women’s health care in East Africa. Ismail was selected the winner on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Tim Cole/Templeton Prize)

One of the richest yearly individual prizes in the world, the 2023 Templeton Prize, was presented to Edna Adan Ismail on Tuesday. She is a nurse-midwife, the founder of a hospital, and a health care champion who has spent decades fighting female circumcision and working to improve women’s health care in East Africa.

According to the statement, she received this year’s prize “rooted in her Muslim faith in recognition of her extraordinary efforts to harness the power of the sciences to affirm the dignity of women and support their physical and spiritual growth.” Her accomplishments include starting a university and hospital that drastically lowered Somaliland’s maternal mortality rate.

Sir John Templeton, a philanthropist, founded the Templeton Prize in 1973; it is currently worth close to $1.4 million. It recognises people “who harness the power of the sciences to explore the most fundamental questions about the nature of the cosmos and the place and function of humanity within it.”

First African woman to get the award, Ismail “has used the teachings of her faith, family, and scientific education to improve the health and opportunities of some of the world’s most vulnerable women and girls,” according to Heather Templeton Dill, president of the John Templeton Foundation.

She has used her numerous positions of power to vehemently advocate that female circumcision is against Islamic principles and seriously damaging to women.

Ismail, 85, stated that she will give a portion of her award money to the Friends of Edna Maternity Hospital in the United States to be used for employing educators, purchasing new equipment, and “training the next generation of health care workers that East Africa so desperately needs.”

In 1937, Ismail was born in Hargeisa, the then-capital of British Somaliland. Her father was a doctor, and as a result of his influence, she and her brothers received covert tutoring until she was 15 years old. She passed a scholarship exam that is often only taken by boys, which allowed her to study in Britain and earn a degree in nursing and midwifery.

She became the nation’s first nurse-midwife with medical training when she returned home. She was the first woman in her nation to be appointed to a position of political responsibility as the director of the Ministry of Health, according to the announcement of the prize.

Later, she joined the World Health Organisation, where she worked as the organization’s representative in Djibouti from 1991 to 1997 and a regional technical officer for maternity and child health from 1987 to 1991.

She decided to return home from her worldwide career with the goal of constructing a hospital. The government of newly reconstituted Somaliland offered her a plot of land that had once been a landfill after the country proclaimed its independence in 1991, but it is still not recognised by outside countries.

After a story of her ran in The New York Times, she raised extra money internationally and liquidated her assets to create the hospital. In 2002, the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital was inaugurated.

The hospital made significant advancements, significantly lowering maternal mortality, even while Somaliland’s healthcare system was in chaos. More than 4,000 students have received training from its educational programme, which changed its name to Edna Adan University in 2010, to become physicians, nurses, and other forms of health professionals. The hospital, where 80% of the personnel and 70% of the students are women, has delivered more than 30,000 infants.

Somaliland continues to be autonomous within its borders in northern Somalia even though it lacks recognition from other countries.

Ismail is a vocal opponent of female genital mutilation, a harmful practise carried out in some Muslim and non-Muslim countries that can be fatal. Without her father’s consent, she was subjected to FGM when she was eight years old. Her father was horrified.

She experienced severe difficulty during deliveries early in her career as a practising midwife because of the FGM scarring. She was motivated to bring up the subject at home after attending a 1976 conference in Sudan where speakers from Muslim nations that practised FGM discussed its repercussions.

As a director in the health ministry of Somalia, Ismail started to speak out against FGM, upsetting her audience at first and drawing threats, but also generating a lot of interest. She urged males to speak up for them and women to come forward.

In a video made for the Templeton Prize, Ismail stated that “Islam forbids female circumcision.” “I recollect that anguish that happened to me when I was 7 or 8 years old, and I relive it every day. Although the wounds may mend, the pain never goes away.

Ismail stated that this was not a priority in Somaliland. In some nations, women who have been affected by FGM receive medical care and counselling to help them overcome or lessen trauma that stretches back to childhood.

She told The Associated Press via email that “we are still struggling to find medical treatment for life-threatening childhood diseases, injuries, and assistance to women during childbirth.” I believe that instead of undoing the damage that healthy young girls shouldn’t have to endure in the first place, our resources and efforts should be used to help avoid diseases.

FGM is still a widespread practise despite advancements; instances have been reported in Britain, the US, and other nations. Ismail continues to advocate against FGM internationally and at her hospital.

Mother Teresa of Kolkata received the Templeton Prize in 1973, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu received it in 2013, and naturalist Jane Goodall will receive it in 2021. Frank Wilczek, a physicist, won the award in 2022.