Ethiopia: MSF forced to suspend majority of activities amid enormous needs

Gambella Ethiopia: South Sudanese refugees

Ethiopia 2019 © Susanne Doettling/MSF

Amsterdam/New York, September 10, 2021—The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has suspended all activities in the Amhara, Gambella, and Somali regions of Ethiopia, as well as in the west and northwest of the Tigray region, for a period of three months, in order to comply with an order from the Ethiopian Agency for Civil Society Organizations (ACSO) first issued on July 30.

Upon receipt of the order, MSF undertook all required action to comply with ACSO’s request while their investigation is ongoing, including suspending all medical and humanitarian programs for three months. With short notice, patients have been discharged from MSF clinics, leaving people in these locations with even more limited access to health care. A team of nearly 1,000 Ethiopian staff are on standby at home, while nearly all international staff have left the country.

In the first six months of 2021, in the four regions where MSF has now suspended its activities, our teams provided 212,000 men, women, and children with outpatient consultations, admitted 3,900 individuals for specialized care, provided 3,300 people with mental health consultations, and assisted 1,500 women in the delivery of their babies.

The order to suspend medical and humanitarian assistance comes at a time when the needs in Ethiopia are enormous, with millions of people in lneed of food, water, shelter, and access to health care across the country.

In the locations where MSF can no longer assist, in west and northwest Tigray, the situation remains extremely precarious and volatile for people, as well as for teams attempting to provide lifesaving assistance. MSF is also concerned for South Sudanese refugees in the Gambella region, people impacted by violence or suffering from neglected tropical diseases like snakebite and kala azar in Amhara region, and for people with incredibly limited access to health care in the Somali region.  

It has now been two and a half months since the brutal murder of MSF team members Yohannes Halefom, María Hernández, and Tedros Gebremariam on June 24. The circumstances around their deaths remain unclear, and no one has claimed responsibility. At the time of their deaths, MSF made the painful but necessary decision to suspend activities in the central and eastern zones of Tigray (Abi Adi, Adigrat, Axum) and continues to engage in dialogue with relevant authorities for updates regarding an on-going investigation.

While MSF was asked to suspend its activities in specific locations, we continue to run medical and humanitarian services in Addis Ababa; Guji (Oromia); Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR); and southeast Tigray.

MSF has been working in Ethiopia for 37 years, providing medical assistance to millions of people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or with limited access to health care in collaboration with Ethiopian authorities at local, regional, and national levels. All activities are guided by the humanitarian principles of humanity, independence, neutrality, and impartiality. Despite these current challenges to providing medical and humanitarian assistance, MSF remains committed to the communities it has been supporting across the country and to the ongoing dialogue with relevant government authorities to lift the suspension and enable the resumption of activities as soon as possible.