Doctors at Tigray's main hospital are urging the Ethiopian government to allow supplies of insulin to be airlifted into the region, warning that patients with type 1 diabetes are at serious risk of death. The Ayder referral hospital in Mekelle, the largest in the region of 7 million people, has 150 vials of insulin left and no oral diabetes medicines, according to a statement late on Friday.
This very limited amount will only allow us to serve patients in need for less than a week, according to a statement published by the International Diabetes Federation IDF and signed by a group of experts, some of Tigrayan origin.
If left unresolved, doctors fear that the insulin crisis could affect thousands of people. More than 6,000 people were being treated for type 1 diabetes in the region before the war began, about 2,500 of them at Ayder. The Observer has not been able to independently verify the claims.
The UN accuses Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of demonising the region with a de facto blockade of the region to deprive it of basic resources, including food, fuel and medical supplies.
The government denies this, saying that forces loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front TPLF have disrupted supplies by attacking critical infrastructure and seizing aid trucks.
There are many wrongs, often on both sides, but we feel that denying medical care to innocent civilians under any circumstances is unethical. The statement to the IDF said that healthcare professionals around the world should be urged to help avert this blockade of critically important, life-saving medicines.
In the year 2022, 100 years after the discovery of insulin, please don't deliberately sentence our type 1 diabetes population to an agonising death through collective inaction. The statement says that doctors at Ayder have not received any diabetes medicine from the government in Addis Ababa since July and have been using expired medicines since September. It adds that supplies are dwindling. People with type 1 diabetes can't live without insulin, according to the doctors.
The hospital has run out of IV fluids, forcing them to treat patients with acute diabetic complications with just water. This is extremely difficult because of the co-existent nausea and vomiting, resulting in avoidable deaths, the statement warns.
Another complication is the fact that around 5.2 million people in Tigray are in need of food assistance, according to the UN's World Food Programme.
In a statement signed by the IDF president Andrew Boulton of Manchester University, the medics say Ayder hospital has been assured that insulin earmarked for Tigray is available in Addis Ababa. They urge authorities to allow supplies to come in on the weekly flights for humanitarian staff that still operate between Mekelle and the national capital.
The director general of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, attacked the Ethiopian authorities for the humanitarian crisis in Tigray last week, saying that the WHO had not been allowed to send medical supplies to the region since July. It was dreadful and unimaginable that a government is denying its own people for more than a year of food and medicine. Foreign ministry reacted furiously to the condemnation, accusing Tedros, who is Tigrayan, of spreading misinformation and compromising the WHO's reputation, independence and credibility Earlier this month, government spokesman Legesse Tulu told Reuters: "What is happening in Tigray currently is the sole responsibility of TPLF.