Ethiopia’s Tigray region has run out of medical supplies such as vaccines, antibiotics and insulin, World Health Organization officials say, warning that many deaths are probably going unrecorded from preventable and treatable diseases.
Only about 9 percent of health facilities in Tigray are fully functional as Ethiopia’s army battles forces from the northern region, WHO officials said in Geneva on Friday. Those that can still operate are resorting to using saline solution to treat wounds and rags to dress them, they said.
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“In this situation of hardship and limited access, often death happens at a community level that goes underreported and unregistered,” said Altaf Musani, WHO director of health emergencies interventions. He described the situation as “deeply worrying”.
The Tigray conflict has killed thousands of people, displaced millions and left thousands on the brink of famine. Peace talks are going on in South Africa.
The conflict has essentially led to a blockade that has lasted about two years although some aid supplies reached communities between March and August during a temporary ceasefire that has since been broken.
Ilham Abdelhai Nour, the WHO’s head of emergency operations in Ethiopia, described the malnutrition levels in Tigray as “staggering” with nearly one in three children under five acutely malnourished.
“When they [malnourished children] get sick, they tend to get a severe disease and tend to die,” she said.
Cases of malaria have increased by 80 percent compared with one year ago, Nour said, adding no cholera or measles cases have been observed so far in Tigray.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a Tigrayan who lost his younger brother to a childhood disease, has been increasingly vocal about the health crisis in Tigray.
“I urge the international community to give this crisis the attention it deserves,” he said on Twitter. “There is a narrow window now to prevent genocide.”
There is no other situation 🌍 in which 6 million people have been kept under siege for almost 2 years like in #Tigray, Ethiopia. This is a health crisis. I urge the intl. community to give this crisis the attention it deserves. There is a narrow window now to prevent genocide. pic.twitter.com/6iOVRnD5oQ
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) October 27, 2022
Routine childhood immunisation levels in Tigray have plunged to below 10 percent from about 90 percent before the conflict, the WHO said.
The conflict in the region began in November 2020 when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray after accusing the region’s ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front of attacking federal army camps.
A truce between pro-government forces and rebels this year lasted five months before it collapsed in August. International concern is now growing for those caught in the crossfire.