Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Ethiopia Jan 2015

Ethiopia: leprosy still a challenge and Tigrayan social-historical interest. 

This series of blogs covers my visit to Ethiopia in Jan 2015. It was a work visit and we had excellent visits to the research institute, AHRI. (Jan 21 and Jan 22 and I went to Tigray for World leprosy Day (Jan 25

It is twenty years since I first visited Ethiopia, then as part of learning about leprosy in Africa before starting my consultant post at HTD. On that visit I met Paul Saunderson and we then worked together on the AMFES project, looking at the outcomes of treating leprosy in Ethiopia. That has led to long and fruitful collaborations with Ethiopian colleagues, most recently with Saba Lambert and Edessa Gobena. There have been significant improvements in leprosy management. However this visit also showed that leprosy is still a significant problem in Ethiopia. Diagnosis and treatment has been moved out to the peripheral clinics and people probably do not have enough skills to recognise patients with leprosy early. With delay in diagnosis their disease becomes more severe with nerve involvement. The data that we were shown in Mekelle on Jan 24 also shows that there is still a huge challenge to promote diagnosis and treatment. 

I enjoyed my first visit to Tigray and was impressed by the social and political interest of the Museum of Martyrs. (jan 24) as well as enjoying the smaller scale of the town. I recently read the Ethiopian memoir "Notes from the Hyena’s Belly" about growing up in Ethiopia in the 1970s and experiencing the fall of the Emperor and the confusion of the revolutions that followed. He describes the importance of spirits in Ethiopian life which I have seen in Saba’s household. He captures the youthful enthusiasm for new Marxist philosophies and I could see this in the Tigrayan museum. He also describes the violence of the revolution and the Red Terror perpetrated by the Derg. 

Addis Ababa has changed hugely. When I first went it was easy to drive around and the women bring wood into the city were barefoot. Now they have shoes and there is also an NGO looking after their welfare. The traffic jams are a major irritation in Addis and traffic management is poor. Shopping malls are numerous. There are new glass fronted high-rises everywhere but little evidence of coherent planning. Some high-rises are stranded without further development looking like lone teeth. The restaurants have improved hugely and one can buy pizza everywhere and we ate burgers in a trendy warehouse. (jan 22) There is a huge young population there, brimming with energy and enthusiasm. Sadly democracy has not developed here. The ruling Tigrayan linked government is reluctant to allow an opposition to develop so the forthcoming election is widely perceived as a sham and not offering real political choices. 

This visit combined a comparison with the past, re-affirmed the need for leprosy work and the stimulation of visiting a new place, Tigray 

Notes from the Hyena's Belly: an Ethiopian childhood
Nega Mezlekia

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