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Tigray crisis: Hospitals and healthcare centres deliberately targetted

15 Mar 21 | 01 Apr 21

Tigray crisis: Hospitals and healthcare centres deliberately targetted

TIGRAY | Selekleka Hospital Caption
Images taken by MSF staff from inside Selekleka Hospital in Tigray, now closed and unable to function

Hospitals, healthcare centres and clinics across Ethiopia’s Tigray region have been looted, vandalised and destroyed in a deliberate and widespread attack on healthcare, according to MSF teams on the ground.

Of 106 health facilities visited by Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams between mid-December and early March, nearly 70 percent had been looted and more than 30 percent had been damaged. 

Just 13 percent were functioning normally and in some places the looting is ongoing.

While some looting may have been opportunistic, health facilities in most areas appear to have been deliberately vandalised to make them non-functional.  

“Health facilities and health staff need to be protected during a conflict, in accordance with international humanitarian law. This is clearly not happening in Tigray.”

Oliver Behn
|
MSF general director

In many health centres, such as in Debre Abay and May Kuhli in the northwest, teams found destroyed equipment, smashed doors and windows, and medicine and patient files scattered across floors.

In Adwa hospital in central Tigray, medical equipment, including ultrasound machines and monitors, had been deliberately smashed. In the same region, the health facility in Semema was reportedly looted twice by soldiers before being set on fire, while the health centre in Sebeya was hit by rockets, destroying the delivery room.

Watch MSF general director Oliver Behn discuss the crisis in Tigray on Channel 4 News. You can also watch the full report, here.

Hospitals occupied by soldiers

Every fifth health facility visited by MSF teams was occupied by soldiers. In some instances, this was temporary, in others the armed occupation continues.

Debre Abbay health center Caption
A vandalised health centre in Debre Abbay, Tigray
TIGRAY | Selekleka Hospital Caption
Looted rooms inside Selekleka Hospital in Tigray

In Mugulat in east Tigray, Eritrean soldiers are still using the health facility as their base. The hospital in Abiy Addi in central Tigray, which serves a community of half a million, was occupied by Ethiopian forces until early March.

“The army used Abiy Addi hospital as a military base and to stabilise their injured soldiers,” says MSF emergency coordinator Kate Nolan. 

“During that time it was not accessible to the general population. They had to go the town’s health centre, which was not equipped to provide secondary medical care – they can’t do blood transfusions, for example, or treat gunshot wounds.” 

Ambulances seized

Few health facilities in Tigray now have ambulances, as most have been seized by armed groups. In and around the city of Adigrat in east Tigray, for example, some 20 ambulances were taken from the hospital and nearby health centres. 

Attacks on healthcare in Tigray, Ethiopia Caption
An ambulance hidden by the community in the town of Abyi Addi to avoid being taken by armed groups

Later, MSF teams saw some of these vehicles being used by soldiers near the Eritrean border to transport goods. 

As a result, the referral system in Tigray for transporting sick patients is almost non-existent. Patients travel long distances, sometimes walking for days, to reach essential health services.

Many health facilities have few – or no – remaining staff. Some have fled in fear; others no longer come to work because they have not been paid in months.

Devastating impact on people

“The attacks on Tigray’s health facilities are having a devastating impact on the population,” says MSF general director Oliver Behn. 

“Health facilities and health staff need to be protected during a conflict, in accordance with international humanitarian law. This is clearly not happening in Tigray.”

Before the conflict began in November 2020, Tigray had one of the best health systems in Ethiopia, with health posts in villages, health centres and hospitals in towns, and a functioning referral system with ambulances transporting sick patients to hospital. 

This health system has almost completely collapsed.

MSF staff conducting mobile clinics in rural areas of Tigray hear of women who have died in childbirth because they were unable to get to a hospital due to the lack of ambulances, rampant insecurity on the roads and a night-time curfew. Meanwhile, many women are giving birth in unhygienic conditions in informal displacement camps.

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In the past four months, few pregnant women have received antenatal or postnatal care, and children have gone unvaccinated, raising the risk of future outbreaks of infectious diseases. 

Patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and HIV, as well as psychiatric patients, are going without lifesaving drugs. Survivors of sexual violence are often unable to get medical and psychological care.

“The health system needs to be restored as soon as possible,” says Behn. 

“Health facilities need to be rehabilitated and receive more supplies and ambulances, and staff need to receive salaries and the opportunity to work in a safe environment. 

“Most importantly, all armed groups in this conflict need to respect and protect health facilities and medical staff.”

Donate to our Ethiopia Emergency Appeal

Our expert teams are providing medical care in emergency rooms and maternity wards. We are refurbishing hospitals that have been vandalised and destroyed. We are running mobile clinics in remote towns and villages.

The people of Tigray are in need of vital medical care and we need your help to provide it.