Tigray’s Ayder Hospital saving a 2 year old exemplifies what has been lost

The story of a two year old Tigrayan child born in Tigray’s remote countryside whose life was saved by a complex operation in 2019 illustrates how the loss of a tertiary center at Mekelle University impacts the community.

Pediatric neurosurgery at Mekelle University Ayder Hospital saved the lives of many hundreds of children suffering from birth defects, accident, tumors, and infection from Tigray, Afar, Amhara, and even some from Eritrea and distant parts of Ethiopia

The two year old was seen by health officers of the Tigray Regional Health Bureau clinic in rural Ethiopia to have difficulty breathing through his nose. The family lived in mountains hours from the highway and were poor farmers. With the help of extended family, neighbors, and church members they collected some money to be able to travel by bus to Mekelle which took all day.

A typical humble home of a farming family in Tigray
To come to Mekelle from the countryside families may walk for hours to reach the highway and then wait for a bus which will take hours to reach Mekelle in the mountainous winding roads

Pediatricians and Ear, Nose, and Throat specialists evaluated the child discovering a mass inside his nose. He was sent for a CT scan and referred to neurosurgery. This showed he had a birth abnormality where a portion of the brain which was not functional was lying in the sinuses of the nose. Without treatment he would eventually develop a fatal infection of the brain.

The child was seen in the Ayder Neurosurgery Clinic which saw in excess of 250 patients per week with neurological problems. The CT scan on the right shows the mass in the nasal cavity extending from an opening at the base of the skull (blue line)

He was taken to surgery in a joint operation with ENT and Neurosurgery where the mass was removed and the brain sealed. Here he was seen on the medical campus with his parents visiting a few weeks later. 

The 2 year old and happy parents encountered on the Ayder campus a few weeks after surgery doing well. I pray they have not suffered from the brutal invasion of Tigray.
Ayder’s neurosurgery operation theater was well equipped and staffed. Performing approximately 2000 operations a year before the Ethiopian blockade which forced a shutdown

The medical blockade of Tigray has resulted in a death sentence for thousands of children who have treatable conditions who could otherwise go on to live happy and productive lives. The advanced medical services at the Mekelle University Ayder Comprehensive and Specialized Hospital medical campus had provided specialized diagnostic, medical, surgical, and rehabilitative facilities which are now shut down. 

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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