The following is a copy of the account given by Dr. Kibrom Gebreselassie Desta, Medical Director of Mekelle University Ayder Hospital of the bombing of the kindergarten in downtown Mekelle as documented on his Facebook. The horror of injuries and death was magnified further by the Ethiopian government’s siege of medical supplies which rendered severely limited what medical care could be given to survivors.
It was noon.
Staff were leaving the hospital for the midday break.
I locked my door and sat in the couch. I didn’t want to go home for lunch. I know I have no prepared lunch at home. It has been more than a year since I got my salary, like any Tigrea government employee. Every commodity that you can get in the market is at least 10 times more expensive than its pre war value. But this too is if that commodity is available. Eating once a day is a routine thing for someone who can afford it. For someone who is the director of the biggest referral hospital in the entire region. For someone who had spent two decades in medical school, a subspecialist in Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery like myself. For the common people imagine how hard life is.
Our friends and family members who live abroad send us money sometime when the have means to do it. Dealers will cut a minimum of 35% of the cash and they give you at an exchange rate which is too low than the bank rate. You should be grateful as this is your only hope to see the sun rising the next day.
While dozing in silence I was started by the sharp noise of an Ethiopian military jet. It was followed by a deafening explosion. I thought my hospital was the target. I run to the emergency room. Everyone was alert and ready to receive the victims. The head nurse told me he saw smoke in the neighbourhood which was at least one kilometre away from our hospital.
We heard the siren of an approaching Red Cross ambulance. It brought an injured elderly woman and a dead boy, at least 17 years old. He had a big hole in his chest. His heart was blown out. An instant death for the kid, but a lifetime horror for the woman who had to endure the scene in the entire trip. Soon more ambulances brought dead and injured children of the air strike. The target this time was a kindergarten. The children’s Amusement Park was completely destroyed. The area is a quite neighbourhood with no military installation or camp. Ethiopians, like their Eritrean allies are known to target market places and schools. They did hit their target once again. We in the receiving end of their two year long atrocities, it is another day of sorrow and bitter sadness.
In a hospital which has no budget in a year, with a staff who haven’t received their salary in 16 months, with no electricity (our sterilisation department, the operation theater, imaging department are not functioning because there is no fuel for generators. NGOs like WFP, USAID, UNICEF, WHO and OCHA were asked for help, none of them could help us. The treatment we got from UNICEF was the most painful. The guy there laughed at us when he heard neonates are dying of hypothermia. USAID and WFP opted not to respond to our quest. The others at least shared our pain.) or telecommunications services, here we are to treat our wounded. The emergency physician approached me and asked for more intravenous fluids. Her tears were visible. She knew the hospital has no fluids nor antibiotics. All I can do is shed my tears with her.
My prospective as a long time researcher, teacher, and physician at Mekelle University on the effect of the Tigray war and subsequent siege on women’s health
Just prior to the invasion of Tigray by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces we know that Tigray had one of the highest rates of medically assisted childbirth in Ethiopia likely to be close to 20%. This low number reflected that it also included a high number of women who were recognized in screening by local health authorities as at risk for a problem pregnancy which lead them to seek closer follow up and care.
Now the health care extension worker network and local clinic systems staffed by public health officers, nurse, and general practitioners have been eliminated. There is no communication system or reliable transportation system even if there was functioning health facilities to visit.
Tigray already had high levels of birth defects including neural tube defects which require close pre-natal care and surgery immediately after birth to improve the health of mothers and children not only for their survival but to promote prevention. The medical and prevention services for these defects in which Tigray was a leader in Africa recognized for the leading research work done by Mekelle University by the World Health Organization and Ministry of Health which has abandoned Tigray now have essentially ceased.
Vaginal bladder and rectal fistulas which are preventable by pre-natal and appropriate birth care management have already skyrocketed. Additional many horrendous mutilations by invading armed forces further added to this burden. Women with these preventable and treatable conditions require sophisticated counseling and specialized surgical care units to avoid a life of social rejection and isolation. These services minimally exist now.
Female reproductive system, breast, thyroid and other malignancies affecting not just the elderly but often women as young as the second decade were in the pre-war era being addressed by preventive screening and the development of comprehensive cancer treatment at Ayder Hospital in Mekelle. A three hundred bed cancer center which included surgical suites and a radiation therapy installation remains unfinished and somewhat vandalized by the occupation of Mekelle.
Before the war about 25% of Tigrayans required food aid. Most of the rural population of women have to carry out the duties of contributing to farming and raising animals, caring for elderly relatives, collecting daily water, and child care. Poor health compromises their abilities to function in society causing higher levels of birth defects, maternal and child perinatal mortality, and retards the goals of elevating women’s status in society.