Ethiopia: Wag Hemra’s Health System in Desperate Need of Assistance

Addis Abeba — Three woredas under the Wag Hemra administration zone: Abergele, Zequala, and Tsagebej remain under the control of Tigrayan forces and as a result, the people continued facing severe hunger, compounded with drought. Abergele woreda, in particular, is facing malaria, rabies and significant food shortages as well as severe Acute Watery Diarrhea (AWD) outbreak, which has resulted in the death of eight people to date, according to figures by the zonal health bureau.

Dr. Kidat Ayele, the Wag Hemra Zone health bureau head, said that there were promises for medical aid but none of it had yet been delivered. The health bureau added that even if the number of people who passed away, as a result, stays the same the situation is getting worse. “Since the Zone is vulnerable to malaria and the season is here, we are asking for immediate assistance from the regional health bureau and regional public health institute and waiting for their answers accordingly.”

The doctor confirmed the death of nine people including children because of an unknown disease in the Abergele woreda of the Zone.

The doctor added that they had heard a rumor that an international medical investigation team had entered the woredas via areas controlled by Tigrayan forces but they didn’t confirm anything yet. Seqota town holds more than 70,000 while the Ziquala woreda, controlled by Tigrayan forces, holds more than 18,000 IDPs as per the regional health bureau head.

Wag Hemra IDPs face death and starvation

Zenash Worku, Wag Hemra Zone Risk Prevention and Food Sufficiency Team Leader, agreed with the statistics listed above in regards to the number of displaced people, by saying ” currently we don’t have anything in the warehouses. The regular food supply has already stopped.”

According to Zenash, the food supply excluded those people displaced from woredas, which were restructured from former South Tigray into Wag Hemra zone, namely Zata, Korem, and Ofla. Even if reconstituted into the Wag Hemra zone of the Amhara region, the woredas from South Tigray are yet to be included in the annual food supplement program by the government, she added. ” Displaced people from the unstructured woredas are covered by the annual food supplement program but our stress is about the newly structured woredas with us.” The officer mentioned the food supplement by the volunteers is also paused nowadays, which has in turn created a huge gap. She estimated that there are more than 11,000 IDPs from aforementioned woredas.

As per Zenash account, it has been a month since they received humanitarian assistance. “Vulnerable groups like infants, lactating mothers, and those with non-communicable diseases are in need of special assistance. Currently, we are not supplying special supplements due to a lack of resources. We are fearing that disaster will happen soon.” Representatives of those displaced from woredas formerly in South Tigray are coming and begging for assistance every day before it is late. In spite of this , the situation is more than the Zonal administration’s mitigation capacity, Zenash told Addis Standard.

In regards to international aid organizations, Zenash said that they come with very limited resources and mentioned that is not enough. ” Wag people are being subjected to death as a result of starvation. The organizations have been there, even UNOCHA, recently but they haven’t provided any food supplements yet. Wag Hemra needs special treatment.” The officer added that it was only the government that is assisting them currently.

What happened in Abergele?

Abergele woreda is one of the Wag Hemra woredas currently under Tigrayan Forces, according to the woreda administrator, Alemu Kifle. 33,000 IDPs from Abergele woreda who currently reside in Seqota. According to the administration, currently, they are pushing the farmers to go back to their farms to avoid missing the farming season which will create a huge catastrophe for the coming year but none of the farmers have returned yet.

Alemu further explained that the contemporary problems the residents and the woredas are facing [those who didn’t get displaced]. “The outbreak of rabies killed more than nine children in addition to the registered more than 120 deaths with lack of medicine and starvation earlier.” According to him, after the rabies outbreak, Doctors Without Borders intervened in the woreda to investigate the situation via the Tigray region.” He told Addis Standard that they are waiting for the Assistance of the World Food Program.

In a recent report, Wag Hemra Zone announced that more than 20,000 cattle had died. The health bureau said this yesterday on the 17th of May, 2022 in a letter addressed to the Amhara regional Public Health Institute, stated its inability to offer expert assistance and medical responses to the people since the areas in concern are under the control of Tigrayan forces and requested the regional PHI to deliberate with international medical humanitarian organizations [operating across borders] to relive the people immediately and conduct assessments of the epidemic and work to control it as well as offer health services.

It can be recalled that Addis Standard reported on the lack of health services in Wag Hemra, manifested by the ill-preparedness of the health bureau in case of an outbreak and deficiency of sanitary facilities as well as medicine in the IDP camps that sheltered people from all over the zone. Specific instances of diseases breaking out in the IDP camps were present, for instance, scabies was observed in displaced people coming from Abergele woreda, the same woreda which is now facing a wide array of the forenamed diseases.