Greely Tribune -- THE ROOF IS CRACKING. The 150-200 beds are not enough. No dentist or eye doctor works here. There is not enough prescription medicine. People can't afford to buy it anyway.
St. Mary Hospital in Axum, a city in northern Ethiopia, is considered one of the better hospitals in Ethiopia. People travel from around that region of Tigray to be treated there.
Most patients suffer from infectious diseases related to water. HIV/AIDS also is a major health issue, but all the hospital staff can do is offer moral support. The hospital doesn't have the money to combat that disease. Their patients probably couldn't tolerate the side effects of HIV drugs anyway because they are malnourished, according to Dr. Tewodros Haile Gebremariam.
The government has "forgotten the peasant," he said. Only in the past two years has the government been seriously helping with agricultural productivity to nurse back to health almost 60 percent of people who suffer micronutrient deficiencies and stunted growth. The problem started after abuse by the communist Derg in the 1970s and 1980s but wasn't addressed quickly.
Dr. Tewodros, 37, as people call him there, has practiced in Axum for seven years. While other doctors have come and gone to better-equipped hospitals in larger cities, he has chosen to stay. At one point, he was the only doctor there, treating hundreds of patients a day.
Every opportunity he gets, he shares with visitors his plight to get basic necessities for the hospital. The government approved a 50 million birr (or roughly $5.8 million) upgrade for the hospital. The problem is the government has only 2 million birr of the total to offer.
The hospital already runs a debt with people not able to pay for their services, which are almost free. An X-ray costs a patient about 5-10 birr, but the film itself costs the hospital 10 birr (slightly more than $1), Dr. Tewodros said.
People are becoming more trusting of Western-style medicine, although about 60 percent try traditional healing first, he said. But the shift to Western medicine is making it difficult for Ethiopia to take care of 71 million, mostly poor, people.
The hospital suffers from a shortage of health-care professionals, especially those who want to stay in a small community. Dr. Tewodros has taken matters into his own hands, sending health assistants away to big cities for training to become nurses.
"We are upgrading 700 health assistants to nurses in three years," Dr. Tewodros said in perfect English. "I think it is ambitious, but we are trying."
Most of what the hospital gets is from outsiders who visit. The generator was donated by a British woman who got sick when she was visiting Axum and had to wait a long time for X-ray results because of electrical problems. The 14-year-old X-ray machine was donated from Japan.
Dr. Tewodros is on a mission to bring adequate care to this part of Ethiopia, appealing to the government and tourists and visitors who pass through.
He easily could leave to better conditions, but he won't. Somebody has to remember the peasants.