© Matthias Steinbach


MSF responds to outbreaks of disease and fills gaps in basic and emergency healthcare

Situated in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is the most populated landlocked country in the world with a population of over 90 million.

Unlike most other African countries, Ethiopia has maintained its freedom from colonial rule apart from a five-year occupation by Mussolini's Italy in 1936-41. It was a founder member of the United Nations.

After a series of famines in the 1980s, the country has begun to recover and is now the largest economy in East and Central Africa.

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) first worked in Ethiopia in 1984. Our work in the country involves responding to armed conflict and endemic/epidemic disease.

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MSF’s work in Ethiopia: 2015

There were significant improvements in Ethiopia’s main health indicators in 2015, but unstable weather patterns causing drought and floods meant that vulnerable groups struggled to access the services they needed.

MSF and the national authorities have been working together to increase capacity, respond to outbreaks of disease and fill gaps in basic and emergency healthcare for the fast-growing population, which includes a large number of refugees.


Between 2014 and 2015, more than 220,000 South Sudanese refugees, mostly women and children, arrived in Gambella, where infrastructure and services are limited. Until May, MSF managed a clinic providing comprehensive services inside Leitchuor refugee camp and ran mobile clinics to the Burbiey and Matar transit sites. MSF reduced activities in Leitchuor and now runs the main health centre in Jewi, providing medical consultations, emergency and maternity services, and outreach activities. Teams conducted over 19,600 outpatient consultations over the course of the year.

  • MSF’s Itang health centre, near Kule and Tierkidi camps, was damaged in the 2014 floods and was therefore temporarily relocated. It returned to its original site in February, with a 55-bed capacity and provided outpatient and 24-hour inpatient services. Over 200,000 outpatient consultations were carried out, 70,000 patients were treated for malaria, and mobile clinics travelled to the Pagak and Pamdong refugee sites.
  • The third round of a vaccination campaign in Gambella targeting refugee children aged between six and 59 months was completed in February with 13,862 children vaccinated against pneumococcal disease and 3,376 vaccinated against diphtheria, whopping cough, tetanus and hepatitis B.

Somali region

MSF provides medical and nutritional support to Somali refugees at Dolo Ado reception centre and Buramino and Hiloweyn refugee camps. People living in the woreda (district), the five refugee camps, and Somalis crossing the border with medical needs make use of these services.

  • At Buramino and Hiloweyn camps, over 2,800 children received supplementary nutrition and 1,300 antenatal consultations were carried out.
  • In Jerar zone, located in an area of low-intensity conflict, MSF supported the hospital as well as health centres, and mobile clinics in up to 23 outreach locations in Degehabur, Birqod, Ararso and Yocale woredas.
  • In Degehabur hospital, MSF runs specialist services including lifesaving and emergency obstetric care, an inpatient department, an emergency room and emergency TB referral.
  • In 2015, a maternal waiting room was constructed, and the therapeutic feeding centre and TB ward were handed over to the hospital. Some 76 community health workers conduct regular surveillance activities in Degehabur and 26 locations outside the city.
  • Fik woreda in Nogob zone is another area affected by protracted conflict, and a team has been strengthening capacity at Fik hospital, providing medical and nutritional support.
  • In Wardher zone, MSF focuses on mother and child health, offering reproductive healthcare and paediatric services, treatment for malnutrition and care for victims of sexual violence.
  • Siti zone in northern Somali region has been heavily affected by drought, leading to very high malnutrition rates. An assessment in November in Hadigala, Erer and Afdem woredas found malnutrition rates of up to 14 percent among the nomadic population and MSF began an emergency intervention in December.

Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR)

MSF started an emergency preparedness project to carry out epidemiological surveillance, build local contacts, gain knowledge and the capacity to respond to any crises in in SNNPR.

  • Together with the Regional Health Bureau, six zones were identified for training and 112 health ministry staff were trained on epidemiological surveillance in 2015.

Treating kala azar

Kala azar (visceral leishmaniasis), a parasitic disease transmitted by sandflies, is endemic in Ethiopia and is almost always fatal without treatment. Since 2003, MSF has been running a project in Abdurafi, providing free diagnosis, treatment and referrals for the local population and migrant workers, resulting in a reduction in the incidence and deaths from the disease.

  • More than 2,500 people were screened for kala azar in 2015 and 325 patients suffering from the disease were treated.

Mental health in Tigray

In February, MSF opened a project focusing on mental healthcare for Eritrean refugees at camps in Tigray region. Outpatient psychosocial and psychiatric services are available at Shimelba and Hitsats camp clinics, complemented by community-based care in Hitsats camp.

  • A psychiatric care centre was opened in Shimelba for inpatient treatment. Over 600 individual mental health consultations were completed overall, and community education and awareness activities are being implemented to reduce stigma and ensure that those in need make use of the services available.

find out more in our international activity report

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