Medical Aid, Repression, and International Relations: The East German Hospital at Metema

January 2016
Journal of the History of Medicine & Allied Sciences;Jan2016, Vol. 71 Issue 1, p64
Academic Journal
Between 1984 and 1988, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) built a hospital in a remote part of Ethiopia, close to the Sudanese border. The project evolved in a complex combination of contexts, including the general foreign policy goals of the GDR, its specific alliance with Ethiopia, the famine of 1984-85, civil war in Ethiopia, and a controversial resettlement program by the government of Mengistu Haile Mariam. Though almost unknown today, it was a high-profile project at the time, which received the personal support both by Erich Honecker in the GDR and Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia. However, their interest was directed more at the political goals the project was expected to serve than at the hospital itself. Both the preparation and the implementation of the project were extremely difficult and almost failed due to problems of transportation, of red tape, and of security. The operation of the hospital was also not ideal, involving frustrated personnel and less than complete acceptance by the local population. Ironically, for all its practical difficulties, the hospital has outlived both governments and their political goals, surviving as a medical institution.


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