An injured girl is woken by her mother at Ayder hospital in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray region, where thousands have died as a result of a two-year siege (Photo: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images)

Dr Fasika Amdeslasie watches helplessly as people die from preventable illnesses and starvation, and wonders why the Tigrayan people don’t have the same global support as Ukraine

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By Taz Ali, Foreign news reporter

26 October 2022 1:26 pm (Updated 10:09 pm)

The Tigray civil war is among the world’s biggest conflicts, and one of the greatest casualties has been the health system, where around 80 per cent of medical facilities have been destroyed, according to a doctor in the embattled region.

Dr Fasika Amdeslasie, a surgeon in the biggest hospital in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, is telling cancer patients to leave with no treatment and no return date. Some never make it back.

He is watching patients on ventilation machines die due to a lack of oxygen supplies, and newborn babies going without vaccinations for diseases such as measles and mumps because there aren’t any doses left.

People with diabetes are dying because there’s no insulin. Expectant mothers are giving birth with no anaesthesia.

Dr Amdeslasie even admitted that for those who are admitted to hospital for procedures, doctors are forced to improvise with aftercare as there are no appropriate drugs available, and patients either suffer from complications, infections, or die.

“It is literally hell on earth,” he told i. “We are crying almost everyday, feeling useless.”

Tigray has been under siege for almost two years, where virtually all humanitarian assistance for civilians has been blocked. Aid distributions were also hampered by a lack of fuel, and a communications blackout in Tigray.

An injured person arrives on a stretcher to Ayder hospital in Mekelle (Photo: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images)

The conflict has taken an unimaginable human toll, with researchers estimating between 385,000 and 600,000 civilians have been killed as a result of war, starvation and lack of healthcare services.

Global institutions, such as the UN and the World Health Organisation (WHO), have publicly condemned the conflict and urged the Ethiopian government to allow humanitarian access to the region, but so far those calls have been largely ignored.

At Ayder Hospital in the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle, Dr Amdeslasie said almost all services have stopped for two months after they ran out of nearly all medicine and supplies.

“The number of surgeries we do has significantly decreased. We are seeing complications following procedures because its substandard because of lack of medicine,” he said.

“Those whom we operate on, it becomes complicated, they can have infection because the drugs have become expired, or we don’t have the actual drugs so we have to give an alternative.

“We improvise, we try to do things that are obsolete elsewhere in the world. So they get complicated when they stay in the hospital and some of them even die.”

Even before war broke out in November 2020 between Ethiopia’s federal troops and forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the region relied heavily on aid in order to survive.

Hospitals across Tigray have run out of almost all medicines and equipment (Photo: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images)

After a five-month humanitarian truce collapsed in August, huge numbers of people continue to die from preventable illnesses and starvation.

Dr Amdeslasie is able to survive on money sent from family and friends abroad, but the vast majority of Tigrayans do not have such lifelines.

“We live in constant fear that we may run out of money, and will starve. You see people begging in the city with ragged clothes. Some of them were civil servants, people who used to have a normal life, families, friends,” he said.

“A lot of people will die. I am witnessing it. If this continues unresolved, it’s going to be catastrophic.”

Western officials warned that civilians in Tigray are also being killed indiscriminately by Ethiopian and Eritrean troops, who have bombarded cities and towns with drone attacks and airstrikes, and have pillaged businesses, banks, livestock and harvests.

Last week, the Ethiopian government said its army captured three towns in Tigray, including Shire, one of the region’s biggest towns, which hosts ten of thousands of people who were displaced from other areas by the conflict.

Samantha Power, head of the US Agency for International Development, warned there was a “significant risk of further assaults and killings being perpetrated against civilians” if Ethiopian and Eritrean forces take control of camps sheltering displaced people.

“The staggering human cost of this conflict should shock the world’s conscience, and the risk of additional atrocities and loss of life is intensifying, particularly around Shire in the Tigray region,” she said.

Her stark warning has been shared by WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is from Tigray.

Last week, he urged for the siege to end and for humanitarian aid to be allowed in.

“Eritrean and Ethiopian forces (are) carpet bombing Tigray cities almost daily,” he tweeted. “Civilians are being killed and the wounded that could have been saved are dying due to lack of treatment and urgently needed care.”

All hopes of an end to the conflict are pinned on the peace talks taking place in South Africa, which are being led by the African Union.

Delegations from the Ethiopian government and Tigray authorities arrived in South Africa this week to begin talks on Tuesday, and they’re expected to continue until Sunday.

In Mekelle, Dr Amdeslasie is urging the West to step in and intervene. He hears about the world’s support for Ukraine and wonders why the Tigrayan people are being “neglected”.

“Even if we are a tiny spot on the globe, we are still human beings. You are failing the whole world by failing us,” he said.

Source: i News