Mar 16, 2022 - World

WHO chief: Ethiopia's Tigray facing "catastrophic" health crisis

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Photo: Johanna Geron/AFP via Getty Images

The head of the World Health Organization on Wednesday warned of the increasingly dire and "catastrophic" humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia's Tigray region, saying, "There is nowhere on Earth where the health of millions of people is more under threat."

Driving the news: As world leaders focus on Russia's war in Ukraine and the growing refugee crisis in Europe, UN bodies and humanitarian groups are urging nations to not forget other crises around the globe.

Background: Fighting broke out in Ethiopia's Tigray region in November 2020.

  • Since then, the war between the Tigray People's Liberation Front and Ethiopian forces and their Eritrean allies has escalated, leading to what the UN has described as a de facto aid blockade on Tigray. The conflict has also spilled over into neighboring regions.

State of play: An estimated 6 million people in Tigray have been "sealed off from the outside world" for almost 500 days due to a blockade by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press briefing Wednesday.

  • No food aid has been delivered since mid-December, and while the WHO was able to airlift medicines and other supplies for about 300,000 people to Tigray last month, "much more is needed," he explained.

What he's saying: "Yes, I am from Tigray, and this crisis affects me, my family and my friends very personally. But as the director-general of WHO, I have a duty to protect and promote health wherever it is under threat," Tedros said.

  • "Just as we continue to call on Russia to make peace in Ukraine, so we continue to call on Ethiopia and Eritrea to end the blockade — the siege — and allow safe access for humanitarian supplies and workers to save lives."
  • Of note: Ethiopia in January accused Tedros of "misconduct" over his criticism of the humanitarian situation in Tigray, AP reports.

The big picture: Tedros also called on world leaders to remember the needs of people in other parts of the world.

  • More than 20 million people are in need of health assistance in Yemen, while Afghans face widespread malnutrition and a surge in measles, Tedros said.

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