Published On  Jan 29,  2012






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Despite hosting the most intelligent medical personnel in the country, Menellik II Hospital caters in the most traditional way. It is puzzling why such an inefficient operational system is maintained even amid the economic transformation experienced across different sectors of the country. Could it be for heritage purposes?



Traditional Relic


As the only hospital providing ophthalmology services, Menellik II Hospital is often crowded with patients. To the dismay of them, however, services remain sluggish and disorganized.

In a city where places are not identified by street names or other references, popular names sometimes work miraculously. Standing by the roadside at city hall, located on Algeria Street, and listening to the minibus assistants, one can hear them yell, “Ferensay Ferensay” for the France Embassy or “Menellik, Menellik” for the oldest hospital in the capital. The latter arrives at one of the main landmarks of the city.

If the name Menellik does not ring any bell, then, one must be a stranger to the oldest establishment of health services in the capital, located about two kilometres east of Addis Abeba University (AAU), for want of a better term of reference. Menellik II Hospital is not only the oldest hospital in the capital but also the only one that specialises in ophthalmology or any disease related to the eyes.

Most patients prefer to visit the hospital for one of two reasons. The poor seek treatment at a nominal price. Others go there because they can be treated by the best ophthalmologists who specialise in using probably the only eye ultrasound device in the country.

The hospital is known, not only for its seniority as an institution, but also as a centre where emergency services are given. Such services include light and critical injuries caused by traffic or other fatal accidents.

In fact, people who are troubled by the absence of their loved ones from home, try to search for them at every imagined location, including police stations. When they lose hope of finding them at such places, they resort to Menellik II Hospital, where bodies are laid to rest until somebody comes to claim them.

Of course, collecting corpses is not as simple as it may sound. The cause of the death has to be professionally identified and well documented before the claimant can collect it.

The Hospital is also one of largest public hospitals in terms of land area. There are a number of villas haphazardly built, almost everywhere, without falling into clear geometrical patterns. But, interestingly, there are cement ramps built for handicapped patients using wheelchairs.

The main block in the middle of the compound can be accessed by stairs with hand rails on both sides of its slope. There is also an underground building that does not seem to have an inlet or an outlet.

The large compound, though lacking any symmetry, is covered by a layer of tarmac. There are a few trees and green hedges planted randomly, as well.

One glance at the compound is enough to discern the age of the hospital. The toilets, which are far apart from each other, are so dilapidated and stinky that it is hard to imagine that they could exist anywhere, never mind at the oldest healthcare institution in Ethiopia.

But, for all that the Hospital is not, it is staffed by the most celebrated eye specialists in the country. The specialists are compelled to share only one or two special microscopes between themselves when they need to perform surgeries.

The burden of carrying out the most demanding surgery on the cornea, including transplanting and fixing lenses, rests on the shoulders of these doctors. Many of the doctors there are said to have the hands of a healer saint by many patients.

Every day from dawn to dusk, the Hospital is crowded with patients coming from every corner of the country seeking treatment. It is strange that television commercials hammer away about dentistry, when the most prevalent ailments remain diseases of the eyes.

A patient who goes to the Hospital for the first time could become frustrated and lose hope just by looking at the number of patients waiting there for treatment. Some of the patients cover their sick eye with a bandage and sit waiting until a doctor comes and checks the eye before any proper dressing is carried out.

Many of the patients come from rural areas and have problems finding lodging and cheaper catering. Most of them complain about the snail speed with which the clerical service is given at the windows.

Weather permitting, every corner or space outdoors serves as a waiting room. The nurses and other junior medical staff roam about the place as if they have nothing else to do. It is common to see some of these medical assistants pause to kiss cheeks and exchange greetings, forgetting that they are supposed to be on duty.

Surely, Menellik II Hospital must be under preservation as an untouchable historical heritage site, otherwise the lack of transformation would be proper to question after such observations.

BY Girma Feyissa




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