The crisis in Tigray: there is no medicine in the hospitals, and malnutrition threatens the lives of children
- Sofia Peteza
- BBC – World Service
Little Haftom is about five years old, and his name means “rich” in the language of the Tigray region, but he suffers from severe malnutrition and weighs less than half of what a child his age should weigh.
As the doctor lifts up the child’s tracksuit and pants to show Haftom’s slender arms and legs, his mother, who did not want to be named, watches the scene blankly.
This scene represents the daily reality in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, where hunger and malnutrition characterize conditions after two years of war between the region’s forces and the Ethiopian government. The peace agreement ended the fighting in the region, but the consequences of the conflict still exist.
The United Nations estimated in August that nearly one in three children under the age of five in Tigray suffered from malnutrition.
The region suffered from a real blockade during the period of fighting between Ethiopian Federal Government forces and fighters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray, as Ethiopian authorities either restricted or severely limited aid access to the northern region.
“I’m coming back empty-handed”
Magda, another severely malnourished child, is the same age as the conflict that broke out on November 4, 2020, but lies like a baby in her mother Hewott’s arms. She is listless, lethargic, her stomach is very bloated.
“It’s become very difficult to get food,” says Hewitt. “It’s very difficult to be able to eat, even once a day.”
Since Magda was admitted to the hospital, her condition has worsened. “My daughter is in this situation because they told us there was no medicine. We couldn’t get anything,” Ms Hewott says.
– And when we were here last year because of the same problem, I couldn’t get anything and I went home empty-handed – added the mother.
The Haftom and Magda families were trying to get treatment for their two children at Ayder Hospital in Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray region. The BBC met them there last month.
Tigray leaders agreed to a ceasefire after August, after federal government forces seized more territory.
Authorities in Addis Ababa said they would send aid and allow humanitarian organizations to deliver more to the Tigray region under the terms of the November 2 peace deal.
“Help me Consume it in one day”
dr. Kiburn Geberslasi has been working as a surgeon at Ayder Hospital, the largest state hospital in the region of seven million people, for 15 years.
“It’s shocking to see young children and mothers suffering and crying every day,” says Dr. Kipprom.
“Many children died in our hospital, because when a child becomes malnourished, it is not treated only with food. They need medicines, antibiotics, minerals… We don’t have all of that,” he added.
Part of the necessary aid and medical material arrived at the hospital, but it is insufficient and does not meet the growing needs.
dr. Kiberom says two trucks with medical supplies from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were the first aid to arrive in Mekele.
He adds with a sigh, “The amount of medicine we got was enough for only half of our patients, and it only lasted one day.”
And every day that passes without help reaching the hospital, more patients die.
says Dr. Kipprom : “For cancer patients, for example, the situation is very bleak. There was no chemotherapy in the entire Tigray region.”
“Every day, every week, every month, their cancer stage is getting worse,” he says. “If the stage of cancer used to be curable, now it is incurable. For patients who are in a really bad condition, every day, every hour counts.” “.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the Ethiopian government and aid agencies sent more than 1,600 trucks to Tigray with food, medical supplies and tents between mid-November and the first week of December.
The International Committee of the Red Cross says it has sent at least 38 trucks to Mekele since mid-November and is in the process of sending more aid.
“All humanitarian actors are making efforts, but they are insufficient compared to the scale of the needs,” said Jude Fuhnwe, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Ethiopia.
Indeed, the scale of these needs is enormous.
The United Nations World Food Program has set a target of delivering emergency food aid to 2.1 million people in the Tigray region every six weeks and says it is on track.
“A lot has improved since the peace agreement,” says Claude Jebedar, WFP representative and country director for Ethiopia.
“After two years of conflict, we do not expect a return to normalcy overnight.”
Mekele is still under the control of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, although government forces control areas around Shire in the north of the region.
In another ward of Ayder Hospital, Vekadu Gamber, a retired teacher, says he has not been able to get diabetes medication for the past three months.
“When we come here for treatment, we find that most of the equipment is not working. We are trying (to find medicine) everywhere, but there is nothing because of the blockade,” he added.
“Many people are dying because of it. We hoped after the signing of the peace agreement that we would get medicine, but nothing has arrived yet,” says Fikadu.
The hospital suffers from an acute shortage of the most basic materials, which is a great burden for the doctors.
“We don’t have enough surgical gloves,” says Dr. Kipprom. “We have to wash and reuse them three times.”
“We can’t do any blood transfusion because we don’t have blood bags. So when we know a patient is going to need a blood transfusion, we don’t do surgery.”
Return of electricity
Another doctor at Ayder Hospital, who wished to remain anonymous, says they are getting minimal medical supplies.
“The hospital is full of wounded soldiers and sick civilians, most of whom are not receiving treatment,” explains the doctor.
Several people at the hospital say the only positive thing the Ethiopian government has done is restore electricity to Mekele.
The hospital management announced in a recent tweet that HIV drugs and testing kits have started arriving.
However, these developments are not enough to change the situation, especially for the most vulnerable groups, primarily children, who have paid the highest price for the catastrophic situation in the region as a result of the conflict and blockade.
“I want a better future for her, that’s all I can think of,” says Hewitt, Magda’s mother, looking down on her daughter.