Desperate need in an Addis Ababa slum

14 November 2014


From Sian Arulanantham

Sir, - I was interested to read your report "Thirty years on: the valley of death is green pastures" (News, 31 October), which tells of the progress Ethiopia has made since the devastating famine of 1984.

While the government has certainly invested in poverty reduction, and Addis Ababa is now indeed a thriving, cosmopolitan city, the Ethiopia I see is very different.

On the outskirts of the city is the Woreda 1 slum, which lies outside the ALERT Hospital. The hospital is the leading leprosy training hospital in Africa, and acts as a magnet for leprosy patients, many of whom end of up living in the slum, owing to its proximity to the hospital and to the stigma surrounding the disease, which means that returning to their families is no longer an option.

Inside the slum is some of the worse poverty I have witnessed. Just last year, I observed desperate hunger: children surviving by picking up scraps of food from the waste dump. The stench was just dreadful, the population of 24,000 people having access to only 200 toilets - that's one to every 120 people. People disabled by leprosy were shuffling through animal and human excrement on the ground to find a spot where they could beg for survival.

I write this letter from Addis Ababa on my way to visiting this community. The Leprosy Mission is now working with the Ethiopian government to provide sanitation, health educators, job training, and business opportunities to those living in the slum. There is, however, such a desperate need that it will take years to address. The tragedy is that people affected by neglected tropical diseases, including leprosy, remain living in communities like these, completely marginalised from society. They are often the forgotten people today, just as their fellow countrymen were 30 years ago in the north before Michael Buerk's reporting changed the course of history.

A thriving economy is a good thing, but, just like 30 years ago, the benefits do not reach the most vulnerable without a concerted effort to bring about change.

Head of Programmes Coordination
The Leprosy Mission England and Wales
Goldhay Way, Orton Goldhay
Peterborough PE2 5GZ

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