Reducing Health Disparities in Seattle

Born in Somalia, Abdifatah Ali Dahiye came to Seattle, Washington as a high school student and went on to study public health at the University of Washington on several scholarships.

Growing up on the Horn of Africa shaped Abdifatah’s perspective on health and disease. “Malaria is very common in East Africa,” Aabdifatah said. “When you see people going through those hardships firsthand, you just want to prevent that from happening to others.”

Throughout college, Abdifatah was a volunteer with the Somali Health Board, which has a mission of reducing health disparities in King County’s large Somali community. The board works primarily with the Somali community but also serves other immigrant, refugee and BIPOC communities, providing essential services and promoting health equity. After graduation, Abdifatah joined the staff full-time as an events and outreach coordinator.

“Ever since I received my scholarships, I made a promise to myself to give back to the community. And prevention is better than a cure, so I want to focus on that,” said Abdifatah.

Abdifatah Ali Dahiye, in a patterned short sleeve button-up and a mask, stands in between two colleagues who are wearing masks and head scarves. They are at a public event for COVID-19 testing.
Abdifatah Ali Dahiye (center) and two colleagues at a vaccination event hosted by the Somali Health Board in Seattle. He said: “Whenever we are tired, we just think about how we are doing something for the community.”

Promoting Equity, Meeting an Unmet Need

Seattle was the site of the first known COVID-19 infection in the United States, and was hit hard by the pandemic. By March 2020, the crisis was in full swing, and Abdifatah’s role shifted to COVID-19 outreach.

“We were one of the first organizations to bring COVID-19 testing to south King County,” said Abdifatah. Testing was difficult to come by, but Abdifatah and his colleagues worked to change that by hosting numerous COVID-19 testing events, eventually shifting to vaccination events that protected nearly 10,000 community members.

Now their events are focused on children ages 5 to 11. “We are working with the Seattle Public Schools and Seattle-King County Public Health to bring vaccinations directly to students,” said Abdifatah.

The work during COVID-19 has been relentless, but Abdifatah’s outlook is positive and expansive. His next goal is to get a Master’s degree in public health and he plans to continue to work to improve public health and health equity in the Somali-American community and beyond.

“What we are doing can make a big difference nationwide, not just with the communities we work with,” said Abdifatah.

His best moments come from the thanks and smiles of the children and parents they serve. He said: “Whenever we are tired, we just think about how we are doing something for the community.”

The Speak Up for Better Health Awards celebrate the everyday people who make our health system more equitable and responsive. The annual awards are hosted by The Center for Community Engagement in Health Innovation at Community Catalyst. Abdifatah Ali Dahiye is a Speak Up honoree.