WHO vows to keep demanding aid access to Tigray

Director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has been accused of spreading 'harmful misinformation'

Ethiopian officials have called for WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to recuse himself "from all matters concerning Ethiopia". Photo: Reuters

The World Health Organisation has vowed to continue demanding aid access to Ethiopia's war-ravaged Tigray region despite a complaint against its Ethiopian chief.

Ethiopia's government said on Friday it had asked the UN health agency to investigate WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a former Ethiopian health and foreign affairs minister, for "harmful misinformation" and "misconduct".

The government accused him of backing rebels in his native Tigray.

The WHO said on Sunday it was "aware that the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has dispatched a note verbale".

But it said the WHO would "continue to ask the Ethiopian government to allow access to deliver humanitarian supplies and services to the seven million people in Tigray, Ethiopia, living under de facto blockade, according to the United Nations, for more than a year".

Ethiopia filed its complaint after Mr Tedros, the highest-profile Tigrayan abroad, last week described conditions in the region as "hell" and said the government was preventing medicines and other life-saving aid from reaching locals.

The Ethiopian government said his comments threatened the WHO's integrity and demanded Mr Tedros be investigated for misconduct and breach of his professional and legal responsibility.

It accused Mr Tedros of supporting the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the federal government's adversary in the 14-month war in the country's north.

Ethiopia's mission to the UN also protested against the WHO head's remarks and called for Mr Tedros to recuse himself "from all matters concerning Ethiopia".

The World Health Organisation says it has been prevented from delivering health supplies to Ethiopia's Tigray since July 15, 2021. Photo: AFP

The WHO however stressed that Tigray was no different than any other humanitarian setting where it and other UN agencies "require unfettered access to be able to protect and promote the health and well-being of all vulnerable and displaced people."

It said it had been prevented from delivering health supplies to Tigray since July 15, 2021 "despite multiple requests to Ethiopian authorities", even as it was allowed to deliver aid to other northern regions of the country.

Ethiopian forces and their allies have been fighting the TPLF since November 2020, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray after accusing the rebels of attacking army camps.

Thousands have died in the fighting, while many more are facing starvation.

The World Food Programme said on Friday that its operations were "grinding to a halt" in northern Ethiopia because fierce fighting was preventing aid from reaching millions in need.

Updated: January 17, 2022, 5:21 AM