Nearly 200 young children have starved to death in hospitals in Ethiopia’s Tigray region as malnutrition rises a year after the outbreak of brutal conflict, according to a new survey.
Data collected from 14 hospitals provides rare insight into the scale of suffering in Tigray, which is grappling with a communications breakdown and what the UN describes as a de facto blockade of aid, which means that most essential medical supplies are no longer available.
Still, the toll is far from complete, given that most health facilities are not functional and Tigrayan health workers have only been able to reach about half of the districts in the region, he said. Dr Hagos Godefay, head of the health office of the pre-war government of Tigray.
Hagos described the unpublished results, some of which were collected in partnership with Mekele University in the capital of Tigray, in an interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP) this week.
“We have recorded over 186 deaths,” Hagos said, referring to deaths caused by severe acute malnutrition in children under five. “We collected this information from hospitals only.”
Some 29% of children suffer from acute malnutrition, up from 9% before the war, Hagos said.
For severe acute malnutrition, the figure is 7.1%, up from 1.3% before the war, he said. Only 14% of households surveyed say they have sufficient access to food, compared to 60%, he said, adding that he fears what is happening in areas his teams have not been able to reach until. here.
“For those areas that are not accessible, you can only imagine how many children are starving. They live in remote areas, there is no water … there is no food, no communication, no health center, ”he said. noted. “So I’m telling you if we go to the remote areas it will double for sure. “
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to Tigray last November to overthrow the regional ruling party, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF), a move he said came in response to TPLF attacks on army camps.
The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner promised a quick victory, but by the end of June the TPLF had recaptured most of the region, including Mekele, and has since moved south.
Since mid-July, less than 15% of the aid needed has been able to enter Tigray, according to the UN, raising the specter of the type of massive famine that has made Ethiopia synonymous with famine in the years 1980.
Agence France-Presse (AFP) has previously documented starvation deaths scattered across parts of Tigray, describing how mothers give leaves to their children in a desperate attempt to keep them alive.
The results of the Hagos investigation described the four months from the end of June, when the TPLF regained control of Mekele, to the end of October.
The 14 hospitals still operating in the region each record between three and four deaths per week from normally treatable illnesses like pneumonia and diarrhea, Hagos said.
He added that he was particularly worried for tens of thousands of Tigrayans under “chronic follow-up”, including 55,000 HIV-positive patients and others suffering from diseases such as cancer, hypertension and diabetes.
“If we are not able to manage them, if we are not able to provide them with medicine … it is catastrophic,” he said.
Abiy’s government has rejected claims it is blocking aid to Tigray, saying access has been restricted due to TPLF advances in neighboring Amhara and Afar regions.
In an interview with CNN last week, Abiy’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum said “the responsibility for humanitarian access … rests with the TPLF.”
The United States, however, said access to essential supplies and services was “denied by the Ethiopian government” while denouncing “indications of a siege”.
And aid workers have sounded the alarm bells about government restrictions on drugs entering the region. Hagos said that with health facilities damaged across Tigray, banking services suspended and supplies of supplies now empty, there is little that health workers can do.
“The commitment of the health workers is really amazing. They just want to work even without pay, but they don’t have to eat,” he said.
As foreign envoys scramble to end the conflict, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken due in neighboring Kenya on Wednesday, the TPLF said lifting the “siege” on Tigray was a condition of any ceasefire. fire.
Hagos also said it was a must, describing the current situation as “collective punishment”.
“The rights of the people of Tigray are not what we are negotiating here,” he said. “If negotiations are to be conducted, they can only deal with matters concerning a political settlement.”
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