By Sally Keeble
Graphic images of famine victims are included in a statement released by medical staff at Tigray’s main hospital setting out the impact on patients of the year-long Ethiopian blockade on the region.
With access to essential medicines down from 82 % to 17.5% and laboratory tests halved, staff at Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital warn that people are dying because the drugs and equipment that could save them are prevented from reaching Tigray. Staff were forced to use their bare hands to stop people bleeding to death when the hospital ran out of gloves and gauze.
They appeal to health professionals and the humanitarian community globally to end the suffering. “Whatever the cause of the war is, it cannot be right or ethical to deny patients lifesaving health care.”
Among the cases they cite are:
- Tsigi Tamene, who travelled to three hospitals while in advanced labour, walking 10 km to one of them. At Ayder her unborn child was found to be dead, with the spine detached from the baby’s head.
- Mulu Ebuy Weldeyesu, a dialysis patient, whose weight dropped to 53 kg due to the interruption of dialysis treatment at the hospital. When Mekelle residents fled the city during airstrikes, dialysis staff remained, using the same dialyser for four or five sessions, despite the reduced efficiency and risk of severe blood stream infections.
- Milat Hailesilassie, a nine months old girl with complicated severe acute malnutrition and unvaccinated. She was born in a forest while the family of six was hiding from soldiers. The parents used all their money just to get her to hospital, so can’t afford medication or food.
The hospital staff are being backed in their call for international support by the College of Health Sciences, at Mekelle University.
Among the equipment needed are basics including intravenous fluids, gloves, antibiotics, pain relief, and medication for women in labour and to treat mental illnesses. The dialysis unit are dialysers, blood lines, bicarbonate powder, acid concentrate jar and central venous catheters.
Oxygen supplies at Ayder are unreliable. Staff said patients were dying due to breakdowns in equipment that needed spare parts which were inaccessible due to the blockade. Electricity blackouts are common and prolonged, sometimes lasting for days at a time.
“We, the staff of the hospital and the college, haven’t lost hope despite the huge psychological burden that we have to deal with as a result of witnessing what is happening to our patients on a daily basis,” the statement says. Staff hadn’t been paid for seven months.
Staff are using time-expired drugs, and have tried to produce fluids locally to clean infected wounds. They are begging city residents for detergents, soap, bed sheets and other linen to keep the hospital running.
The neurosurgery team conducts operations based on clinical examinations only, without having the support of CT scan and/or MRI images. Neither has been functional for many months because of the lack of spare parts due to the blockade.
Children who need shunt surgeries can’t be treated and dying, as are people with treatable cancers and long-standing dialysis patients who are dying needlessly due to lack of supplies.
“We, therefore, humbly and respectfully request all health professionals in Ethiopia, Africa and the world to be the voice of our patients and stand with us in our effort to end the crisis. We also request the Ministry of Health of Ethiopia, different UN and other international organizations, all the other local partners, NGOs as well as international partners to intervene and bring the misery of several months to an end,” the statement says.