The Impact of recently closed clinics and health centers administered by Catholic Churches on the public and healthcare system of Eritrea

The recent decision by the government of Eritrea to close the clinics owned by the Catholic Church was another blatant human rights abuse against the people of Eritrea.

These clinics have been operating in remote places to provide healthcare services to local communities, free of charge. The healthcare system has been intermittently systematically dismantled by the government, struggling to meet the public demands to provide primary healthcare that is fit for public use.

An accessible and affordable healthcare service is a basic necessity, especially in countries like Eritrea, which, due to their geographical location on the equatorial belt, are continuously battered by tropical, infectious, and communicable diseases. Thus, the priority of both governmental and non-governmental institutions in the healthcare sector, would typically be expected to direct significant investment towards erecting and maintaining such clinics to address the crucial healthcare issues. However, as part of the widespread flagrant violations of rights, the government of Eritrea has been actively targeting non-governmental institutions and religious charities that could potentially contribute to the required healthcare solutions.

The government-owned clinics and hospitals are severely understaffed, and there is an apparent shortage of medicines and other diagnostic and non-diagnostic logistics. In addition, since the distribution of these clinics is not even across the different regions of the country, people usually have to travel a long distance to be able to get treatment, advice and related services. In some regions, the local clinics also lack safe roads for vehicle access, which makes accessibility more difficult, especially for children and pregnant women who require continuous visits to these clinics for various healthcare needs.

For decades, due to lack of the government’s willingness to timely and effectively address the issue of declining health services, the local people have been left at the mercy of charitable organizations to fill the gap of health care needs in some of the remote places in the country. One of those charitable organizations which has been actively working on providing service to the rural communities is the Catholic Church.    

The Catholic church has founded several clinics which were operational for several years in rural areas in Eritrea. These clinics were in part relieving the burden of patients visiting the regional /referral hospitals, and also providing easy access for vaccinations and antenatal care, including other services that do not require advanced investigation and intervention. Moreover, since their establishment in rural areas, they significantly improved the issue of accessibility for people who need emergency services. The services they provide is also free of charge, and the medicines they were dispensing were giving at a nominal price.

In mid-June 2019, the government of Eritrea has closed over 20 critical clinics, confiscated their properties, and arrested some of the managers. This was systematic and targeted move and will significantly impact the rural communities and the nation in general.

In an already struggling economy and gravely compromised healthcare system, the closure of these clinics could be endangering the wellbeing of the entire nation. Primarily, these clinics were actively giving vaccination and care for pregnant mothers, children and vulnerable people. The women and children are the primary targets. This poses a tremendous regional impact that could compromise the control of vaccine-related diseases.

In 2008, the government shut down five clinics in Tsorona, Mendefera, Segeneitry and Ingela village in Anseba region in similar manner. The clinics were run by the Catholic Church of Eritrea, providing primary health care in rural areas.

The Eritrean government’s irresponsible action denying thousands of citizens a much-needed primary health care service is a crime, and it should be strongly condemned by the international community.

Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)

30 June 2019