Doctors say lives lost in hospitals in Ethiopian Tigray due to depleted stocks, blame blockade

  • Ethiopia’s largest hospital has not been restocked since June
  • Doctors say patients are dying due to drug and equipment shortage
  • All children admitted show signs of malnutrition

NAIROBI, January 5 (Reuters) – At Ethiopia’s largest hospital in Tigray, a child injured in an airstrike died of blood after doctors ran out of gauze and intravenous fluids. A baby died because there were no fluids for dialysis.

Doctors at the Ayder Referral Hospital in the regional capital Mekelle, which is under the control of Tigrayian forces fighting the central government, told Reuters by telephone that the lack of supplies was largely the result of a blockade of government assistance for several months in the northern region.

“Signing death certificates has become our main task,” the hospital said in a presentation Tuesday prepared for international aid agencies and shared with Reuters.

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Notes and materials for the presentation included case summaries, lists of missing drugs and medical supplies, and photographs of injured and malnourished patients. Reuters also interviewed three medics, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals from the Ethiopian authorities.

Doctors identified 117 deaths and dozens of complications, including infections, amputations and kidney failure, which they said were linked to shortages of essential drugs and equipment. They did not provide dates for most of them.

War erupted in November 2020 after the collapse of relations between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF), the party that dominated national politics until Abiy’s appointment and controls the major part of the region. The conflict has killed thousands of people and driven millions more from their homes.

Government spokesman Legesse Tulu reiterated Ethiopia’s position on Monday that no blockade had been imposed. He did not respond to questions about the shortages reported by Ayder.

“What is happening in Tigray now is the sole responsibility of TPLF,” Legesse told Reuters.

He accused the TPLF of looting equipment and medicine from more than a dozen hospitals and 100 health centers when its forces invaded neighboring areas of Amhara and Afar last year before moving on. be postponed until December.

A spokesperson for the TPLF declined to comment. The TPLF has previously denied looting of health facilities and blamed the government for the shortage of humanitarian supplies.

Ethiopia’s health minister also made no comment.

Ethiopia’s health minister and a TPLF spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment. The TPLF has previously denied looting of health facilities and blamed the government for the shortage of humanitarian supplies.

The United Nations first sounded the alarm over the lack of access to Tigray in December 2020, when government forces took control of Mekelle after fighting rebel forces loyal to the TPLF for three weeks.

Access for its trucks has fluctuated since then, but has declined significantly after government forces withdrew from most of the region in late June, according to reports by United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA.

Abiy’s government has repeatedly rejected accusations by the United Nations and other aid organizations that it is preventing humanitarian supplies from reaching Tigray.

The government has restricted access to the media since July. Some aid agencies have been banned and most communications with the region are down.

Two international aid agencies contacted by Reuters did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday’s presentation, which was issued on behalf of all staff at Ayder Hospital.

‘FACT BLOCK’

A senior Ayder doctor told Reuters that around 80 to 90 percent of hospitals and clinics in Tigray are not functioning. According to the United Nations, more than 90% of the 5.5 million inhabitants of the region are in need of humanitarian assistance and 400,000 live in conditions bordering on famine.

Some supplies reached major towns in Tigray in the first eight months of the conflict, when the region was under government control. But little food and almost no medical supplies have arrived since the government pulled out in late June, doctors said.

They blamed what UN and US officials described as a de facto government blockade. The United Nations estimates that at least 100 aid trucks must enter Tigray every day to meet the needs. Less than 12% of that amount has arrived since July, OCHA said last week.

There are three main routes to Tigray, but bridges along two of them blew up when the Ethiopian military withdrew, according to OCHA reports. Convoys attempting to use the remaining overland route, via Afar, have faced lengthy security checks and bureaucratic delays that can last for weeks. Authorities often ban the passage of fuel and medicine, according to OCHA reports.

In late December, Afar authorities unloaded and distributed aid supplies from five of 20 trucks that had been waiting two weeks in the Afar border town of Abala for permission to enter Tigray, according to an OCHA report.

The World Food Program told Reuters it would run out of food and fuel in Tigray by mid-January.

Afar regional government spokesman Ahmed Koloyta did not respond to requests for comment. Government spokesman Legesse said the trucks entering Tigray had not returned and were being used by Tigray forces.

FAMINE

Ayder has not received a resupply of drugs or equipment since June, the three medics told Reuters. The 500-bed hospital is running out of everything from oxygen to antibiotics to therapeutic foods for malnourished children, they said. His scanners no longer work.

The percentage of children under 5 admitted for severe malnutrition almost doubled to over 41% in October.

Surafeal Mearig, 3 months old, weighed 3.4 kg at birth but now weighs 2.3 kg, according to hospital records. A photograph shared by his parents shows his protruding ribs, eyes sunk into his skull.

A pediatrician said the boy’s parents made a good living before the war. The father worked as a cashier in a construction company and his mother in a bank. Neither is working now, according to the case notes.

The breast milk has dried up and they cannot buy formula, the pediatrician said. The hospital will soon run out of food.

About 82% of essential drugs were available at the hospital a year ago, up from 17.5% at the end of 2021, the documents say. Among those who are depleted are insulin, oxygen, and most cancer drugs.

A malnourished baby girl arrived from Abi Adi town with pneumonia and kidney disease, the notes said. The hospital could not give him dialysis because there was no more intravenous fluids. She was one of 35 deaths among dialysis patients since the start of the war. The dialysis department said it was reusing equipment for one in five patients.

A doctor told Reuters he saw trauma patients succumb to fatal infections because most antibiotics were used up. He recounted the case of an 8-year-old girl who arrived on December 12 with a head injury after the emergency department ran out of gauze, gloves and painkillers.

Staff first used their bare hands to try to stop the bleeding, and eventually got some stitches from another ward, but there was no intravenous fluids or blood for a transfusion. She died in her mother’s arms, according to the case notes.

The girl’s mother told hospital staff she was injured in a government airstrike on Mekelle as she watched cartoons at her home, a doctor said in the notes.

Reuters could not independently confirm the account. Military spokesman Col. Getnet Adane did not respond to requests for comment, but previously denied that the government was targeting civilians.

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Katharine Houreld reported from Nairobi and Giulia Paravicini from Milian; Dawit Endeshaw contributed reporting from Addis Ababa; edited by Alexandra Zavis, Angus MacSwan and Howard Goller

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