Ethiopian blockade of medicine will cause African pandemics beyond deadly Tigray epidemics

Hemen Hagos, 1.5 months old Ethiopian child admitted with pertussis, also known as whooping cough, receives care at a hospital in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray region, Ethiopia September 9, 2022. REUTERS/Stringer

The Tigray siege of medical supplies by Ethiopia is causing deadly outbreaks of disease in children, adults, and domestic animals which will likely spread beyond Tigray borders into the whole Horn of Africa and beyond. Large migrations of displaced persons across the borders of Tigray to Sudan, Amhara, and Afar region continue as Ethiopia continues to attempt a military victory rather then peaceful end to the war.

As occurred during the initial invasion and occupation of the whole of Tigray many invading soldiers from Ethiopia who we know were known by the commanders of the Ethiopian forces to be HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) positive infected many Tegaru women and girls in their violations of civilians. Additionally in many cities and villages these forces sabotaged water supplies leaving the civilian population with no supply of potable water. The lack of electricity has not allowed the restoration of this clean water. The Ethiopian blockade has blocked the treatment of HIV which is allowing the HIV infections to progress to a full blown AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) which eventually results in disability and death. Children born of these untreated rape victims also usually become infected.

Children are more vulnerable to cholera then adults. The lack of antibiotics and intravenous hydration means those who ordinarily could be saved are dying.

Despite claims proven false of directing immunizations to Tigray by Ethiopian Minister of Health,Lia Tadesse, none have reached Tigray for many months. Following November 2020 only very limited immunizations insufficient to vaccinate a significant population were allowed. The United Nations, World Food Program, and other aid organizations have repeatedly been blocked from sending medical supplies to fight tuberculosis, malaria, HIV, water borne bacterial disease such as cholera, and immunizations for children. All their shipments either by plane and truck had to be approved by the Ethiopian government.

Subsequently doctors with Ayder Hospital in Mekelle and the Tigray Regional Health Bureau report that less than 10% of children are immunized against potentially disabling or deadly viral and bacterial diseases while before the Tigray invasion by Ethiopia and Eritrea the rates of immunization were approaching 90%.

There are no supplies to diagnose or treat deadly infections which affect not only food supplies but can also spread from animals to humans. Outbreaks of rabies and anthrax are rapidly increasing. Desperate for food doctors report some human deaths from consuming infected animals. 

Author: Professor Tony Magana

Professor Tony Magana is Head of the Department of Neurosurgery, School of Medicine, College of Health Sciences at Mekelle University in Mekelle, Ethiopia. He directs a neurosurgery residency and training program as well as neuroscience research.

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