While most of us focus on the discomfort of pandemic restrictions, a horrifying tragedy is sweeping Ethiopia
Former Director of MSIH, Prof. A. Mark Clarfield, took a lengthy sabbatical in Ethiopia some three years ago. There, together with his wife, Prof. Ora Paltiel – also an academic physician – they worked with medical colleagues at several hospitals and clinics associated with MSIH. One such hospital was Ayder Comprehensive Specialised Hospital in Mekelle, Northern Ethiopia. Mekelle is the capital of the Tigray region where much of the fighting in Ethiopia’s civil war is focused.
“I recently heard from one of the physicians who sent out a desperate appeal from the hospital. We know the hospital and have many close colleagues there and we couldn’t sit back and not do anything,” said Clarfield. “What’s happening is horrific and with everyone focussed on the COVID 19 Pandemic, few of us – including most of the world’s health and humanitarian organizations – are paying enough attention to this unfolding tragedy.”
Clarfield decided to do what he could to bring these grim events to the world’s attention. He drafted a letter to The Lancet, appealing to the UN, the African Union, WHO, and the Ethiopian Government to stand by the health workers and patients in Mekelle. The draft was circulated to colleagues for input and before he knew it, more than 40 people from six countries had asked to be co-signatories.
The letter, published online in The Lancet on January 12th, has, at the time of writing, been retweeted more than 20,000 times.
In the letter, Clarfield and his colleagues explain that “the availability of essential medications has, plummeted from almost 80% a year ago to less than 20%. Laboratory tests have dropped from 94% to less than 50%. Patients are dying from a simple lack of a reliable oxygen supply. Due to the blockade of Tigray, spare parts for all medical machinery are not just in short supply—they are non-existent.”
“MSIH has been associated with several hospitals in Ethiopia for years and until this war, 4th year students could take Global Health Electives there. Relations were so close, the school even hosted several Ethiopian medical students who took clinical rotations at Soroka together with MSIH students. They are our colleagues and friends and it’s our duty to do what we can to help them.”
“Hopefully, the letter – and its associated public outcry – will reach the screens and desks of those in a position to stop the atrocities,” says Clarfield. “War is a terrible thing and it’s time to stop the suffering of the innocent people of Ethiopia.”