Record-breaking drought in Ethiopia has caused child malnutrition rates to soar in the northern Afar region, where the only referral hospital says babies are dying within hours of arrival. Ethiopia’s war with Tigrayan forces has left less than 10 percent of the region’s clinics functioning and hospitals struggling to cope.
Doctors at the hospital in Afar say they have admitted 369 severely malnourished children in the past three months.
With only two pediatricians serving an area of more than 1 million people, Dubti General Hospital is overwhelmed with weak children and desperate mothers.
Aina Kadr’s 1-year-old son has been on therapeutic feeding for two weeks.
“When we came here, he wasn’t eating food or drinking water,” she said. “We were afraid he would die.”
The worst drought in the Horn of Africa in four decades has left millions of Ethiopians facing hunger and malnutrition. The U.N. says Afar’s rate of admitted malnourished children jumped by 30 percent in March and then another 28 percent in April.
The acting head of Dubti General Hospital, Dr. Muhammad Yusuf, said they’ve gone from admitting five children per month to five per day.
“They come after the patient deteriorates. So, most of the patients die in our setup after arrival within two to three hours because they are already complicated. Since malnutrition is not the only problem. It’s accompanied with other complications, like pneumonia, anemia, diarrhea,” Yusuf said.
Ethiopian authorities say the war with Tigrayan forces left Afar’s clinics looted and destroyed, with less than 10 percent functioning.
That has forced even more people to seek care at hospitals like Dubti’s, where patients —many of them children — spill into the hallways and porches.
Amina Adam Ibrahim has been at the hospital with her sick baby for over two weeks.
“He’s coughing. He has a high fever, and he cannot eat food,” she said. “We do not know what’s wrong with him.”
Michel Saad, head of the U.N.’s humanitarian office in Ethiopia, said there’s a struggle to meet health care needs.
“There’s a need to either rehabilitate other health centers somewhere else within Afar or to create new ones even if momentarily,” Saad said. “So, this is something that we are trying to work on. I can tell you, unfortunately, it’s not as fast as we would like to, but it’s definitely on the radar, and we are following up on this.”
Meanwhile, Yusuf said some staff have given up and abandoned the hospital, making it even harder for remaining health workers to cope.