Exclusive: Australian Doctor Has Never Seen Human Suffering in Ethiopia So Bad – Made Worse By COVID-19 – Hope 103.2

Exclusive: Australian Doctor Has Never Seen Human Suffering in Ethiopia So Bad – Made Worse By COVID-19

Earlier this year, the United Nations warned the world is at risk of widespread famines of "biblical proportions", with Ethiopia among the countries most in danger.

By Anita SavageFriday 4 Dec 2020

An Australian doctor is warning hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of dying from starvation in Ethiopia.

Drought, floods and locust plagues have left areas of the country critically short of food.

Viewer discretion is advised. The following article includes content and images that some readers/viewers may find very disturbing.

Obstetrician with the Barbara May Foundation, Dr Andrew Browning, lived in Africa for 17 years – 10 of those in Ethiopia – treating women with childbirth injuries, known as fistulas. He returns regularly to train local surgeons and treat the more difficult obstetric fistula cases.

Australian surgeon Dr Andrew Browning AM has completed 7000 African fistula operations and has special permission to return to Africa

Australian surgeon Dr Andrew Browning AM has completed 7000 African fistula operations and has special permission to return to Africa

Dr Browning has just returned to Sydney, after being given special permission to travel during the coronavirus pandemic, and said he’s never seen the human suffering in Ethiopia so bad.

“I was in the villages around the hospital a few weeks ago, just doing a survey, and seeing what the devastation of the locusts, the floods, and the restrictions have caused and people are literally starving,” he said.

Earlier this year, the United Nations warned the world is at risk of widespread famines of “biblical proportions”, with Ethiopia among the countries most in danger.

During his recent trip, Dr Browning visited his aunt Valerie Browning, a nurse who has lived and worked among the nomadic people in Ethiopia’s Afar region for more than 30 years. Valerie works to improve maternal and child health, and literacy, and seeks to eradicate practices such as female genital mutilation. Currently, she’s looking after 2300 severely-malnourished pregnant or lactating women and their babies. Dr Browning said they are at great risk of dying.

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“Many of them have died, and died because they were so malnourished that they don’t have any reserve to go through labour.”

Millions of children are also chronically malnourished and face acute food insecurity.

Show me the photos

“I’ve never seen children so malnourished and too weak to cry – (they could) barely open their eyes because they were so, so malnourished. It was absolutely heart breaking,” Dr Browning said.

One-year-old Fatuma is among them (see images). Her family are nomadic herdsmen who live in the Afar desert. Drought has destroyed crops. Recent flooding cut food supplies to the area. Locusts have stripped all the vegetation and the livestock are dying because there’s no food for them to eat.

“There was no possibility of getting food there and so she was literally dying of starvation, ” Dr Browning said.

“The mother was still trying to breast feed but by the time I found her, just a few weeks ago… she was so malnourished, that anything she took into her mouth she couldn’t absorb and she would vomit straight up. We had to get her to hospital very quickly.”

Thanks to medical intervention, Fatuma started putting on weight. But her stay was short-lived.

“These are all illiterate nomadic herdsmen and they’re very fearful and so (the mother) took the baby and fled back to the villages and fled the hospital.”

Dr Browning said he’s hopeful medical workers will be able to find Fatuma and give the baby support needed to pull through.

“If Christ is in your heart and he’s changed you and filled you with the spirit and you have God’s love, how can you not see your brother in need and not have compassion? And so, my faith strengthens me and enables me to do this.”

The coronavirus pandemic is complicating the entire situation – 107,000 Ethiopians have been infected and about 1660 have died from COVID-19.

Dr Browning said people are afraid of going to hospital to get tested in the fear that they might catch COVID-19. But it’s not coronavirus that’s the biggest problem. The lockdowns imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19 have meant that people can’t go to work to earn a living, to pay for any food that might be available.

While acknowledging the pandemic is a concern, Dr Browning said the people of Ethiopia are facing far bigger problems of ebola and malaria, both which have a significantly higher death rate.

He first felt a calling to work in Africa after hearing a talk from a missionary nurse at Sunday School when he was six years old. As a young doctor, he worked with pioneering fistula surgeon, Australian Dr Catherine Hamlin in Ethiopia, before going on to lead a team that’s transformed several neglected health centres into functioning health centres for poor women and those living in remote areas.

“If Christ is in your heart and he’s changed you and filled you with the spirit and you have God’s love, how can you not see your brother in need and not have compassion? And so, my faith strengthens me and enables me to do this.”

Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region is being besieged by fighting between federal government forces and local troops. Hundreds of civilians have been killed, with reports of both the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopian military massacring civilians. Tens of thousands have been forced from their homes.

“Please pray for the people of Ethiopia,“ Dr Browning said. “As people flee that area into the areas where we work, they’ll need support. So please pray. And, if you can, please support.”

“It only costs $200 to support one lady to have a safe delivery in our hospitals. A little bit of money can do an awful lot to save a woman and a child’s life. And it’s $400 to cure a fistula patient in our hospitals. So if you are able to donate [to the Barbara May Foundation], all of that is tax deductable as well, and everything is gratefully received. So thank you.”

Dr Browning has been reflecting during his required 14 days in hotel quarantine on his return to Australia.

“We treated 77 women with fistula on this trip and on average each fistula patient would have been living ostracised and in isolation for three years each. So that’s 231 women years of isolation. I’m having two weeks or isolation! It’s not even the blink of an eye.”

If you would like to “help relieve the high incidence of death and extreme injury in pregnancy and childbirth” in Africa and support the efforts of doctors like Dr Andrew Browning, visit barbaramayfoundation.com.



Fatuma and her family, nomadic herdsmen living in the Afar desert

Faatuma in Dubte Hospital

Faatuma in Dubte Hospital.

Heartbreaking scene

Heartbreaking

Aisha with Mohammed. He was sevrely malnourished and in hospital. now at home much better

Aisha with Mohammed. He was severely malnourished and in hospital. Now at home and much better.

Blending in, it's good to wear a skirt again

Blending in, it’s good to wear a skirt again.

Empty bag of food and another bag made into a rope!

Empty bag of food and another bag made into a rope.

Mother and children support with food supplements (bag nearly empty but doing better

Mother and children supported with food supplements (bag nearly empty but doing better)

Supported at home, doing better

Supported at home, doing better.

Supported with food supplments at home- much better, baby was close to death

Supported with food supplements at home. Much better, baby was close to death.

The lady who made the bag into a rope. Supported through a severe hunger_

The lady who made the bag into a rope. Supported through a severe hunger crisis.


Tanzania Hospital

“These are from our hospital in Tanzania where we operated on 67 patients. We had to squeeze them in,” Dr Andrew Browning said.

We had to take over the canteen for bed space

We had to take over the canteen for bed space

Twins born as I was leaving to a poor Maasia lady brought in as an emergency from miles away

Twins born as I was leaving to a poor Maasia lady brought in as an emergency from miles away

Most of the patients we operated on

Most of the patients we operated on

Morning ward rounds

Morning ward rounds

Morning tea time

Morning tea time

Fistula nurse Etropia with some patients

Fistula nurse Etropia with some patients

Enjoying the sun on our lawns

Enjoying the sun on our lawns

Agnes had a fistula, we cured her, she got pregnant, delivered Anna (named after our Anna), not back just for a small further op and cured

Agnes had a fistula, we cured her, she got pregnant, delivered Anna


About the Barbara May Foundation

The Barbara May Foundation (BMF) was founded in 2009 to support the work of Australian’s Valerie Browning AM, and her nephew, Dr Andrew Browning AM in maternal healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa. They provide access to caring and knowledgeable maternal health professionals who treat all women with patience, respect and cultural sensitivity. The primary focus of BMF-funded programs is safer childbirth, the delivery of live babies, and mothers not dying or injured during childbirth.

The majority of programs focus on women living in rural areas and among poorer communities, and are provided free-of-charge to those in need regardless of race, religion or financial capacity. Andrew also undertakes extensive work treating women suffering from obstetric fistula* injuries which is estimated to be approximately two million in Africa.