In Ethiopia, it’s not uncommon for patients from rural areas to seek medical treatment in large cities like Addis Ababa, where facilities may be better equipped to handle complex ailments and conditions. These patients, however, are often placed on long wait lists and may have to stay in Addis Ababa for days or weeks at a time. This is especially problematic for indigent patients who may not be able to afford food or shelter while they wait for medical attention. A group of physicians at Tikur Anbessa Hospital, however, are trying to change this reality. They established the Gojo Shelter for the Needy and Sick Community in order to make life easier for patients who face difficulties finding food and shelter as they await treatment. EBR’s Meseret Mamo spoke with the organization’s founders to learn more about how they plan to expand their vision.
After being diagnosed with cervical cancer Worksew Abebe, 40, came to Tikur Anbesa Specialized General Hospital from Sayint Woreda in the South Wollo Zone of the Amhara region to get treatment with her husband Setot Kassa, four months ago. With little money in their hands, the couple struggled to get treatment as quickly as possible – and yet, they still have to wait for one month to get what they needed.
One week after they arrived to Addis Ababa, the couple ran out of money for shelter and food, and had to look for alternatives to help finance their stay. “We had no money to buy food or pay for shelter,” Setot told EBR. “We used the hospital yard as a shelter and begged for money to cover our food expenses.”
After receiving treatment, the couple returned to their hometown but came back two weeks ago for further treatment. Unfortunately, they say they face the same problems as before.
Like Worksew, many patients who came from countryside face problems finding shelter and food while waiting days on end to receive treatment at Addis Ababa’s busy and crowded public medical treatment centers. Most of them usually sleep within the compound of the hospital and are forced to depend on charities. Such a situation crowds the hospital and makes the environment tenser and may worsen the patient’s health.
Such a devastating reality is the reason Selamenesh Tsige (MD) and her colleagues established a humanitarian association to address this problem two years ago. “When I was an intern at Yekatit 12 Hospital, I came across a guy who was robbed and beaten in Addis Ababa after he came from Ambo by foot for medical treatment,” recalls Selamenesh. “That incident compelled me to do something about [the way rural patients are treated].”
Immediately, Selamenesh and her friends conducted a mini survey by preparing 270 questions that were distributed to 200 working physicians and 70 patients admitted to Tikur Anbesa, St. Paulos, Zewditu, Minilik and Yekatit 12 hospitals.
Their findings were devastating.
According to their study, 90Pct of the patients surveyed were admitted to public hospitals in the capital are referred patients and 50 to 70Pct of these patients come from outside of Addis Ababa. The study also found that 50 to 70Pct of the patients who deserve admission are put on the waiting list and 30 out of 45 patients who filled the questionnaire were staying in the hospital yard under plastic shelter. What’s more, out of the 45 patients who responded, 40 had no money for food or shelter.
After discovering the grim situation facing patients, Selamnesh and five of her colleagues decided to do something to ease the situation. They established the Gojo Shelter for the Needy and Sick Community, a community-based humanitarian organization that offers temporary shelter and meals. The Ministry of Health (MoH) approved their proposal on December 15, 2014, and they managed to establish the charity a couple months later and started to extend their helping hands.
For now, the organization has a deal with the Tikur Anbessa Hospital to use the staff lounge of the Hospital to prepare lunch every Friday for patients who cannot afford food. Members of the organization say roughly 60 patients like Worksew and Setot come for lunch every Friday. “We invite patients for lunch by passing out tickets, but the lunch program is now known among patients and some come without an invitation,” says Bethelhem Yeshak (MD), one of the members of the charity. As a result, Bethelhem says that more people than expected come for lunch and they’re sometimes forced to give half a meal per person. If sharing still isn’t enough to feed the patients, members of the charity might buy additional meals with their own money.
The patients are appreciative of the charity and the work that’s being done. “We are thankful for their generosity,” says Setot, who was eating lunch provided by the association with her husband at Tikur Anbesa’s Medical School’s staff lounge, on Friday, June 26, 2015. “The organization also gave us money to get back home the last time we were in Addis Ababa.”
The leaders of the organization have big plans, including building a temporary shelter and providing food for the patients until they finish their treatment as well as offering money for transportation when patients go back home.
‘‘The Ministry of Health welcomes the involvement [of Gojo Shelter] because it is something that should be given focus because of the low access to health coverage in the country,” says Markos Paulos, team leader of Medical Service Directorate at the Ministry.
The doctors who lead the Gojo Shelter were able to continue their medical training at Tikur Anbessa Hospital, which helped them to grow the charity. The original group of five is now joined by another nine individuals, including two from the medical profession. They are now working more to undertake their societal responsibilities even further.
This level of commitment attracted individuals like Habtamu Kassahun (Eng), a road, dam and irrigation department manager at the Defense Construction Enterprise. Habtamu says he was impressed by their dedication. “I even became an honorable member of the organization and actively participate,” he told EBR.
But Habtamu is not the only honorable member of the NGO. Prominent individuals like Admasu Tsegaye (PhD), president of Addis Ababa University (AAU), athlete Haile Haile Gebrselassie and the Clinton Foundation are among the honorable members of the organization. Members of the organization, many of whom are below the age of 25, managed to convince the Ministry of Health, Addis Ababa Health Bureau and Addis Ababa University’s School of Medicine to cooperate with them. The Addis Ababa Health Bureau provided them with 150 square meter plot of land for the construction of a shelter. Even better, Defense Construction Enterprise has promised them to build the shelter free of charge.
According to Selamenesh, the shelter is expected to accommodate up to 70 patients at a time when it gets finished. She hopes that the organization will continue to grow and help the plights of some of Ethiopia’s most vulnerable patients.EBR
3rd Year • July 16 – August 15 2015 • No. 29