Ethiopia’s Tigray region has run out of medical supplies such as vaccines, antibiotics and insulin, World Health Organization officials said Friday, warning that many deaths are likely to go unreported from preventable and treatable diseases.
The conflict, which pitted Ethiopia’s army against forces from the country’s northern Tigray region, has killed thousands, displaced millions and left thousands on the brink of starvation. Peace talks are underway in South Africa.
The conflict led to a de facto blockade that lasted about two years, although some aid supplies reached the communities between March and August during a temporary ceasefire that has since been broken.
Only about 9 percent of health facilities in Tigray are fully functional amid access restrictions and fuel shortages, WHO officials told reporters in Geneva. Those who could still operate resorted to using saline solutions to treat wounds and rags to bandage them, they said.
“In this situation of hardship and limited access, death often occurs at the community level, which remains underreported and unrecorded,” Altaf Mousani, the World Health Organization’s director of emergency interventions, told a briefing in Geneva, describing the situation as “deeply worrying.” .
Spokesmen for the prime minister, the health minister and a government spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Tigray forces spokesman Getachu Reda also did not immediately respond.
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a Tigrarian who lost his younger brother to childhood disease, has become increasingly vocal about the health crisis there.
“I call on the international community to give this crisis the attention it deserves. There is now a narrow window to prevent genocide,” he said on Twitter late Thursday.
Ilham Abdelhai Nour, the WHO team leader for Ethiopia, described the levels of malnutrition in Tigray as “staggering”, with almost one in three children under 5 suffering from acute malnutrition.
“When they (malnourished children) get sick, they usually get severe disease and tend to die,” she said. Routine childhood immunization rates in Tigray have fallen to below 10 percent from about 90 percent before the conflict, the WHO said.