In Tigray, Ethiopia, supporting a shattered health system

Ethiopia: People in rural Tigray hit by impact of crisis and humanitarian neglect

Ethiopia 2021 © Igor G. Barbero/MSF

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) began working in key hospitals in eastern and central Tigray in mid-December, providing critical support to a health system shattered by violence since November.

While fighting in this region of Ethiopia has driven some 60,000 people across the border into Sudan, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced within Tigray. Most of them have moved into friends’ and relatives’ homes, creating households of 20-25 people. The impact on the health system has been acute. Before MSF arrived, many of the facilities our teams are now supporting were not functioning, lacking in medicines and staff. These hospitals are important for treating people in the cities where they are located, but also as referral hospitals for people in remote areas.

Access to many remote places is still difficult, but MSF has been able to bring mobile clinics to the outskirts of some cities and even reopen health centers in some rural areas. During these visits, says Albert Viñas, MSF’s emergency coordinator, “it was striking to see a pregnant woman who had been in labor for seven days—we were able to refer her [for care]. People who arrived at the hospital on bicycles from 30 or 35 kilometers away, someone pushing the bicycle with the patient sitting on it.” When the health system stops working, says Viñas, “activities are stopped, such as disease detection or vaccinations. We fear that epidemics will appear.”