In Brief: Fighters deliberately target health facilities in Tigray

An abandoned pharmacy at a hospital in Tigray, Ethiopia. Photo by: Médecins Sans Frontières / REUTERS

Armed militants have deliberately targeted health facilities in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, according to Médecins Sans Frontières.

In its assessment of health facilities between mid-December and early March, MSF found that barely 1 in 10 health facilities was functioning, 1 in 5 have been used to house armed soldiers and one facility was used as an army base. The organization is calling on all armed groups in the conflict “to respect and protect health facilities and medical staff.”

The organization’s findings: Because the Ethiopian government initially cut off all humanitarian access to the region after it launched a military campaign in November, MSF was only able to enter the region on December 16, 2020. MSF has since visited 106 health facilities, finding that nearly 70% were looted, more than 30% damaged and only 13% were functioning normally.

MSF found that “health facilities in most areas appear to have been deliberately vandalized to make them non-functional.” Armed groups have also seized ambulances.

The Ethiopian army used the Abiy Addi hospital in central Tigray, which normally serves half a million people, as a military base.

Why this matters: Attacking medical facilities is a violation of international humanitarian law and, if intentional, constitutes a war crime.

In response to MSF’s assessment, Dr. Mukesh Kapila, professor emeritus of global health and humanitarian affairs at the University of Manchester, tweeted that in his 30 years of humanitarian work in places including Darfur, Rwanda, Afghanistan and Bosnia, he has never seen a situation where the military deliberately sets out to occupy and destroy most health facilities, calling it a “world record in human degradation.”

Before the conflict, Tigray had one of the best health systems in Ethiopia. But it has now “almost completely collapsed,” according to MSF.

About the author

  • Sara Jerving

    Sara Jerving is a Global Health Reporter based in Nairobi. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, and Bloomberg News, among others. Sara holds a master's degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was a Lorana Sullivan fellow. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists in 2018, part of a Vice News Tonight on HBO team that received an Emmy nomination in 2018 and received the Philip Greer Memorial Award from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2014. She has reported from over a dozen countries.