UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, has resumed the distribution of humanitarian aid in Tigray, following the recent peace agreement. On 8 December, around 70 tonnes of reproductive health medicines and equipment arrived in the capital Mekelle, the first consignment since August 2022.
Conflict and displacement in the north of Ethiopia have left more than 9 million people in acute need of humanitarian assistance in the Afar, Amhara and Tigray regions and taken a devastating toll on the health and well-being of women and girls, specifically.
The need to restore access to essential life-saving services and supplies for the women and girls of northern Ethiopia has never been more pressing. The UNFPA consignment includes contraceptives, treatment for sexually transmitted infections and the clinical management of rape, and reproductive health kits for the provision of emergency obstetric care, including caesarean sections. They will be distributed to hospitals, health facilities and internally displaced persons sites in Mekelle and Shire.
Suzanne Mandong, UNFPA Representative in Ethiopia, visited the region last week and paints a grim and heartbreaking picture of what she witnessed on the ground while delivering supplies and medicine,
“There has been a drastic deterioration of obstetric and gynaecological care and services, with major development setbacks across the region. Women and girls are dying. I met a young woman in a maternity ward, who was seven months pregnant and could not be treated, despite suffering from malaria, severe anaemia, high blood pressure and more. Why? Simply due to the lack of medicine and blood supplies,” she continues to describe. “You could barely see her stomach, she could barely look at us, or speak with us. She is one of the many women and girls who are paying for the conflict and climate shocks across the country.”
The health system in Tigray has been decimated with only 10 per cent of health facilities fully functioning, severely compromising women and girls’ access to basic services, including contraception and maternal health. Referral systems for women suffering complications during pregnancy and childbirth are almost entirely absent. Health professionals and essential reproductive health medicines are also in short supply – many have not been paid for nearly two years, while others have lost jobs, been displaced or been wounded, threatened or killed.
Displacement and instability have fuelled gender-based violence, including rape, at the same time as medical and protection services have been eroded. One-Stop Centres to support survivors of gender-based violence have reported that they are out of medication.
Despite the operational challenges, UNFPA and partners reached over 5,000 women and girls with health and protection services in November. But needs are rising exponentially with supplies unable to keep up.
Ethiopia is facing multiple, intersecting crises – in addition to the instability in the North, the country is being subjected to one of the worst droughts in 40 years in the Horn of Africa region, with around 20 million Ethiopians in need of urgent assistance. Amid the instability and deteriorating food security situation, UNFPA is sounding the alarm for women and girls, whose needs are being overlooked and underfunded while they face serious threats to their health, rights and safety.
On 13 December, UNFPA launched a $1.2 billion record-high humanitarian appeal to provide reproductive health and protection services to 66 million of the world’s most vulnerable women, girls and young people in 65 countries in 2023. This includes an appeal for $45 million in Ethiopia to scale up UNFPA’s humanitarian response to save lives and ensure that the rights and needs of women and girls are protected.