A young patient is comforted by her father during care at the Ayder Referral Hospital in October. The hospital has now begun turning away sick people it says it can no longer treat

Officials in conflict-ridden region of Ethiopia say they can only treat patients with food or money, turning away scores of suffering people

By Tom Collins

22 April 2022

More than 200 patients have been turned away from a hospital lacking supplies in Tigray, casting doubt on the government’s claim to have opened the war-torn Ethiopian region to humanitarian aid.

Doctors and nurses at the Ayder Referral Hospital, in the regional capital of Mekelle, said that babies with meningitis and tuberculosis and a 14-year-old boy with HIV were turned away.

Officials said they could only accommodate patients with food or money, turning away scores of needy people who are suffering from widespread famine and the ravages of a brutal 17-month long war.

Two cancer patients waiting for operations were turned away due to the lack of cancer drugs, a doctor said. Tedros Fissehaye, a paediatric ward nurse, said that 10 patients left when they were informed that there was no more food.

“The families said, pray for us, instead of dying here let’s go home and die there,” he said.

The mountainous region of around seven million people had been under a government blockade for months until it was lifted in March. Mulu Niguse, a paediatric nurse, said that they had almost completely run out of medication but received some supplies, including HIV pills, when the blockade was lifted.

Empty hospital beds are seen in the Ayder referral Hospital, as patients were sent home after food supplies ran out CREDIT: Reuters

Michael Dunford, regional head of the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), said that some trucks had entered Tigray but it was essential that more convoys “move and that they move now”. The WFP is negotiating with regional authorities for the safe passage of a third convoy, he said.

It is estimated that around 90 per cent of Tigray’s population needs humanitarian assistance. However, it is unclear what is still blocking aid from reaching the region where millions are at risk of famine and malnutrition.

The government insists that it has given the green light to allow aid trucks to enter Tigray. Experts have said that ongoing delays may be caused by regional Amhara authorities who are locked in disagreement with Tigray over disputed land, claiming that some parts of the Amhara region were annexed by Tigray in the 1990s.

Added to political issues, Ethiopia is also suffering from increased fuel and commodity prices partly caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“There are limited supplies, fuel and cash in the country,” said Catherine Harris, Caritas Australia’s Humanitarian Coordinator.

“This means that even when humanitarian workers can find enough wheat flour or shelter supplies in the quantities needed in the region, they might not be able to source the fuel necessary to transport these supplies the distances needed”.

Source: The Telegraph