Thousands of diabetics in region face ‘agonising death’ amid blockage on food, fuel and medicines in 14-month conflict
Sat 15 Jan 2022 12.00 EST
Doctors at Tigray’s main hospital are urging the Ethiopian government to allow supplies of insulin to be airlifted into the region, warning that their stocks will run out within a week and that patients with type 1 diabetes are “at serious risk of death”.
At the Ayder referral hospital in Mekelle, the largest in the region of 7 million people, staff have been told they only have 150 vials of insulin left and no oral diabetes medicines, according to a statement late on Friday.
“This very limited amount will only allow us to serve our patients in need for less than a week,” warns the statement, published on the website of the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) and signed by a group of experts, some of Tigrayan origin.
The stark warning is a further sign of the intense strain placed on the region’s healthcare services by the 14-month conflict between Tigrayan and federal government forces, which has been marked by widespread human rights abuses and deepening humanitarian strife.
If left unresolved, doctors fear the insulin crisis could affect thousands of people. More than 6,000 people were being treated for type 1 diabetes throughout the region before the war began, about 2,500 of them at Ayder. The Observer has not been able to independently verify the claims.
The UN accuses prime minister Abiy Ahmed of maintaining a de facto blockade on the region to deprive it of basic resources including food, fuel and medical supplies.
The government denies this, saying forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have disrupted supplies by attacking critical infrastructure and seizing aid trucks.
“In conflicts there are always many wrongs, often on both sides, but we feel denying medical care to innocent civilians under any circumstances is unethical. We appeal to healthcare professionals around the world … to help avert this blockage of critically important, life-saving medicines,” says the statement to the IDF.
“In 2022, 100 years after the discovery of insulin, please let us not deliberately sentence our type 1 diabetes population to inevitable and agonising death through collective inaction.”
Doctors at Ayder have not received any diabetes medicine from the government in Addis Ababa since July and have been using expired medicines since September, the statement says. Now even those supplies are dwindling, it adds. “A diabetes catastrophe is … unfolding as people with type 1 diabetes cannot live without insulin,” warn the doctors.
The hospital has also run out of IV fluids, they add, forcing them to treat patients with acute diabetic complications with just water. This is “extremely difficult because of co-existent nausea and vomiting, resulting in avoidable deaths,” the statement warns.
An additional complication is the fact that so many patients are coming in to hospital malnourished, “further reducing their resilience”. The UN’s World Food Programme estimates that around 5.2 million people in Tigray are in need of food assistance.
In the statement, signed by the IDF’s president, professor Andrew Boulton of Manchester University, the medics say Ayder hospital has been assured that insulin “earmarked for Tigray” is available in Addis Ababa. They urge authorities to allow supplies to come in on the weekly flights for humanitarian staff that still operate between Mekelle and the national capital.
Last week, the director general of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, attacked the Ethiopian authorities for the humanitarian crisis in Tigray, saying that the WHO had not been permitted to send medical supplies to the region since July. It was “dreadful and unimaginable”, he said, that “a government is denying its own people for more than a year food and medicine”.
The foreign ministry reacted furiously to the condemnation, accusing Tedros, who is Tigrayan, of spreading misinformation and compromising the WHO’s “reputation, independence and credibility”.
Earlier this month, when doctors at Ayder raised concerns about supplies of various medicines and equipment, government spokesman Legesse Tulu told Reuters: “What is happening in Tigray currently is the sole responsibility of TPLF.”
Source: The Guardian