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
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
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
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.