Ethiopia, the consequences of the healthcare emergency

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The article is a brief presentation of the report of MSF about the difficulties of accessing to healthcare in Tigray, Ethiopia

The lack of basic services and the difficulty for humanitarian associations, such as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), to access the Tigray region due to its internal conflict, makes it hard for the ill people of Ethiopia to survive. 

War broke out back in November, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced internal clashes between his forces and those of the rebellious regional government. Tigray’s leaders dominated Ethiopia for almost thirty years before being outclassed due to Abiy’s introduction of policy changes which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019. Besides, since the beginning of the war, basic services have been targeted and severely compromised. Indeed, the UN states that 78% of the hospitals remain unfit to use, while MSF reports that in addition to hospitals “around 80 - 90 percent of the health centers that were visited between Mekele and Axum were not operational, either due to a lack of staff or because they had suffered robberies”.

The health failures in Ethiopia are countless. Firstly, the most intuitive problem is the lack of basic services, and, in some cases, the lack of electricity. Communications were cut out, militiamen attempted transportation services and repurposed buses and trucks for military use, forbidding sick people to get to hospitals safely. Dr.Albert Viñas, who has been involved in almost 50 emergency responses with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), stated that he has seen “people arriving at the hospital on bicycles carrying a patient from 30 kilometres away”. Those who manage to get to hospitals, regardless of how they get there, are the lucky ones. Women bearing difficult pregnancies, people with serious illnesses or children with fractures cannot move without support, and are therefore condemned to stay at home and risk dying, as the lack of transport could be fatal. Secondly, not all people who manage to get to hospitals also manage to heal. In other words, hospitals in Ethiopia are so debilitated and decayed due to the internal clashes, that they’re not able to function at full or even half of their potential ; the report states that functionality rates have fallen to 10-20%. Thirdly, hospitals are internally damaged, in some cases showing signs of artillery fire and insufficient, obsolete or broken medical equipment.. Regarding medical equipment, it is important to mention that hospitals are not only targeted by artillery attacks, but they are also robbed. On 27 December, MSF staff entered Adwa general hospital, and then reported “all the medicines had been stolen and that the hospital furniture and equipment were broken”. 

The problems do not end there. Hospitals lack equipment as much as they lack medical staff. Most of the health staff has left, fearing for their lives, since hospitals continue to be a target for assaults. 

When the New York Times was able to interview Ethiopian doctors months ago, it reported that healthcare workers spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid reprisals from the government, sending messages and talking via a rare internet connection of the city . “One provided photos of wounded patients at the hospital who had been hit in the bombing — infants with shrapnel-pocked bodies, a man with a bloodied head, a woman lying prone with her leg in plaster.”

The MFS has been trying to access Tigray, along with the United Nations, but providing humanitarian help still seems to be dangerous and almost impossible. When recalling his experience in Ethiopia,

Albert Viñas stated: “I am struck by how difficult it has been – and continues to be – to access people in great need in such a densely populated area. Considering the means and capacity for analysis possessed by international organisations and the UN, the fact that this is happening is a failure of the humanitarian world.”

Urgent action is needed. No political or territorial conflict should ever cross the limit of invalidating people to the point they would rather die at home than go to the hospital. 


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AUTHOR: Benedetta Spizzichino Editor: Eleonora Gonnelli


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