News Archive

posted 12/22/04

Contact: Mariellen Gallagher
212-854-2583 or mgallagher@ei.columbia.edu

Earth Institute Supports Training Women to Battle Disease in Ethiopia
26,000 Women Training to Teach Disease Prevention to Underserved Rural Communities

One hundred and fifty women attended an orientation in Asella where they will receive training to become health workers as part of the Health Extension Program. This new initiative being implemented by the Federal Ministry of Health and local health bureaus will train 26,000 women over five years in hopes to end needless deaths from preventable disease in a country where life expectancy is 40 years. Photo credit: Mark Inglis

On any given stretch of Ethiopian highway, clusters of women and children
endure dust storms and midday sun to transport bushels of firewood or weighty plastic containers of water on their backs -- basics they need for survival. Some walk in search of a health clinic, bringing a sick child or relative the long miles it takes to find help for the many conditions and diseases devastating Ethiopia that are preventable but fatal, such as malaria, typhoid, AIDS and malnutrition.

watch video about this project

At the request of the Ethiopian Minister of Health, and through the generous support of an anonymous donor, The Earth Institute has created the Center for National Health Development in Ethiopia to provide technical support for a program that will put health care within reach of 12 million Ethiopians.

The Health Extension Program, a new government initiative being implemented by the Federal Ministry of Health and local health bureaus, is teaching 25,000 young women to become health workers in their rural communities. This is an integral part of a major part of a new five-year, $1.6 billion initiative.

Experts at the Center for National Health Development in Ethiopia are working closely with the government and the health sector to ensure this new Health Extension Program, which involves thousands of students, teachers, and personnel in rural training centers, is running smoothly. From left to right: CNHDE Director Dr. Awash Teklehaimanot, Dr. Hailay D. Teklehaimanot, EI Director Jeffrey D. Sachs, Dr. Yemene Yeibyo, Hailu Meche, Amir Said, Dr. Yayehyirad Kitaw, and Miriam Mohammad. Photo credit: Mark Inglis

Experts at the Center for National Health Development in Ethiopia are working closely with the government and the health sector to ensure this new Health Extension Program, which involves thousands of students, teachers and personnel in rural training centers, is running smoothly. Experts with the center are evaluating the efficiency of the training and teaching materials, and recording the experiences of the teachers and students. Experts are also conducting an extensive survey of health problems in the rural communities, and recently hosted a donor conference where over fifty representatives from NGOs such as UNICEF, UNAIDS, and government representatives and private donors attended.

Eighteen-year-old Asnekch Lease is one of the young women being trained as part of this program. She is being taught preventative health care strategies like waste management, family planning, pest control, malaria prevention, personal hygiene, vaccination procedures, and other disease prevention methods. Lease will then work from a health post in her community where she will teach these methods to the women who are responsible for the households. “Right now, our communities have so many problems its hard to list them all. The main ones are that people are far from the health institutions and the pregnant women have no assistance,” said Lease, speaking resolutely in her native language, Oromo. “Also our communities are suffering from HIV, and we are preparing to help educate them on how to prevent AIDS.”

The Health Extension Program will educate rural communities about prevention and treatment of malaria, where currently there is little health care within reach. Photo credit: WHO/P. Virot

The Health Extension Program focuses on preventative care; the Health Extension Workers will teach rural communities how to prevent the diseases that cause 90% of deaths in Ethiopia. Currently the life expectancy in Ethiopia is estimated by the CIA World Factbook to be 40 years.

Awash Teklehaimanot is director of the Center for National Health Development in Ethiopia, part of the Earth Institute, has been working on the health problems in Ethiopia for decades. “Right now, there are very few hospitals, and very few health workers,” says Teklehaimanot. “At this rate of development, it would not be feasible for Ethiopia to attain the UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015. But the climate for developing world donor support is very good. Ethiopia is now leading other poor countries in its poverty reduction strategy, and its Health Extension Program is a key component.”

Awash Teklehaimont (right), who is director of the Center for National Health Development in Ethiopia, part of the Earth Institute, and Jeffrey D. Sachs (center), who is director of the Earth Institute, discuss the vital need to increase access to health care in Ethiopia at a donor's conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Jill Stoddard

At the donor's meeting this past November, hosted by the Center and the Ministry of Health, Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute, asked donors to put money towards implementing programs and to not replicate studies of the problem. "Please don’t say you need to study [the problems] more," Sachs told the around 50 donors seated in a conference room at the Sheraton Hotel in Addis Ababa. "I can dump on you 2,000 pages of studies, and they’re wonderful. It’s enough. I’ve had 500 experts working in projects I’ve directed in the last four years for WHO and for the Secretary-General, and I can tell you conclusively that at $1.80 per capita health spending, you don’t have enough resources. Don’t replicate the studies. It's time to do something."

“It’s an excellent plan,” said Sachs after the meeting. “The government is determined to close the health care gap and bring primary health care to everyone in Ethiopia within the next five years. The idea is to have a clinic for every village that will be available to educate people about ways to stay safe and to stay healthy.”

Related Video

-- Training Thousands to Battle Disease in Ethiopia (video about this project)
-- Donor's Meeting (Sponsored by Federal Ministry of Health and the Center for National Health Development in Ethiopia; held at the Sheraton in Addis Ababa, November 2004)

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is the world’s leading academic center for the integrated study of Earth, its environment and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines—earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences—and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world’s poor. For more information, visit www.earth.columbia.edu.