If you have followed my travels or have read my blog over the years you know that Ethiopia is my favorite country in the world. There is something about the people, the culture, its beauty and the sheer size of the country I love. Even though I love Ethiopia I have never been under a grand illusion that it is a unified country. There have been mass arrests and killings in Oromia, journalist and freedom fighter imprisonments, and now a civil war with mass atrocities and forced starvation against the people of the Tigray region. In fact, just this week reports of an airstrike on a market near Tigray’s capital Mekele killed at least 64 people and wounded over 100.
Even as war is still happening in Ethiopia’s northernmost region, its national election officially wrapped on Monday without voting in Tigray, of course. Now, ballots are being tallied across the country with the likelihood that the current prime minister Abiy Ahmend will be reelected.
Since last November, Ethiopia and Eritrea’s militaries as well as militia groups from Ethiopia’s Amhara region have imposed heavy atrocities on the country’s northern Tigray region. Reports from the ground from journalists and aid agencies reveal mass rapes, murders, and intentional starvation of 350,000 of the region’s 6 million people. Farmers are not being allowed to plant their crops and food trucks are being turned around at gunpoint.
Yesterday, the New York Times published photos by conflict photographer Lydnsey Addario who captured some of the sufferings in Tigray including rape survivors to children who have been caught in the crossfire.
By Caroline Kinsella, Advocacy and Communications Intern, White Ribbon Alliance
One of the more hidden human rights abuses around the world is the fact that one billion people have no legal proof of identity. Alarmingly, UNICEF estimates that about one in four children under age 5, or 166 million, are unregistered and without any trace that they exist. Conversations about reducing global poverty and protecting the health and human rights of mothers and newborns must include the challenges of birth registration.
A single piece of paper has the power to transform a person’s future. Birth certificates are necessary to access government services, life-saving medical treatment, a nationality and age related legal protections. Legal proof of birth is often required to attend school and apply to higher education, as well as open a bank account and vote. Many of the individuals without a birth certificate today are children who were never registered at birth. In some cases, nobody knows for decades that a child does not have a birth certificate.
In Uganda, Senfuka Samuel, who goes by Sam, applied for a master’s degree program that required a birth certificate. As he did not have one, Sam had to venture to the hospital where he was born. There, he discovered that hospital records before the year 2000, including any proof of his birth, were destroyed in the civil war. Traveling hundreds of miles over two weeks, Sam spent his own money to first get issued a necessary ‘birth notification’ – a slip of paper with birth details handwritten by a midwife – to later gain a new legal birth certificate.
It was a sunny afternoon as most days are in Ethiopia in April. I was taking an individual tour of a large hospital in the middle of Addis Ababa where I got to talk to doctors, nurses, and see waiting rooms and even patients who were recovering from care.
I distinctly remember the room of women who had recently had abortions or were awaiting one. The room was eerily silent despite the number of patients in the large recovery room with few windows and no air conditioning. Personal effects were on all of the beds: blankets, purses, food, extra clothes . Some of the women had female visitors, others did not. While the Ethiopian abortion law on the books is considered “semi-liberal” by African standards, there is some pushback on abortion services although in practice if a woman wants an abortion she can most likely get one. This is mostly to help decrease maternal mortality rates and to curb the rates of unsafe abortions.
As I concluded my tour, the last room I saw was where the abortions took place with all of its machines and lone hospital bed. At that moment I was glad that despite the law, these Ethiopian medical professionals along with the hospital’s policy allowed women to have a choice about their own bodies and reproductive rights.
As is true with each new presidential administration the global health community hangs in the balance. According to KFF.org the US global health funding was set at $11 billion in FY 2019 and in 2020 the funding was significantly decreased. This funding goes towards programs in more than 70 countries for HIV, malaria, maternal and child health among other health challenges. But now with the Biden administration the global health imperative is back on the table with increased funding and a dedication to countries’ health. Here are four reasons why.
At the start of the last administration the lamentations were heard around the world about the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy or the Global Gage Rule, that cut overseas funding from advocating for the legalization of abortions, provide abortions, mention the word, or even refer women to health practionioners that provide safe, legal abortions. Biden has already revoked the Mexico City Policy, but according to Time magazine the Trump effect may take some time to undo.
The Trump administration also withdrew from the World Health Organization (WHO), something that seemed unfathomable, but was a stark wakeup call for the global health community. Biden stopped the United States’ official withdrawal from the WHO. This is important as the US provides significant funding for global health and by re-entering the worldwide health community, the US will help stabilize the global COVID-19 response.
Not only did the Trump administration withdraw from the World Health Organization, it also withdrew from The Paris Climate Agreement signed in 2015. Make no mistake, while the Agreement sets conditions and milestones for countries to reach to stave off and prevent further climate extremes it is very much a health agreement. Again, Biden rejoined The Paris Agreement, putting the United States back on a solid footing on climate change initiatives.
Biden’s nominee for administrator of USAID is Samantha Power. With years of global health and administration experience under her belt, Power is the former US ambassador to the United Nations under Obama. Additionally, Power served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights at the National Security Council. Power will certainly raise the profile of USAID and usher a renewed sense of the United States’ responsibility to global health and security.
In the first few weeks of Biden’s administration there have been several notable changes in how the United States approaches global health. This is especially imperative with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging out of control with new variants and a backed-up vaccine rollout. Now, there is a plan in place not only for the United States, but also for global distribution of the vaccine where the vast majority of the vaccines have gone to high-income countries according to Duke Univeristy’s Global Health Instutute.