Simple, Cheap Health Remedies Cut Child Mortality In Ethiopia

Health extension worker Bruktawit Mulu
Health extension worker Bruktawit Mulu ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Ose

By NPR

Poor countries are starting to realize something that richer ones sometimes forget: Basic, inexpensive measures can have dramatic impacts on the health of a country. And they can save thousands of lives.

Take, for instance, the situation in Ethiopia.

The country used to have one of the highest rates of child mortality in the world.

“If you were a kid born in 1990 [in Ethiopia], you had a 1 in 5 chance of not surviving to your fifth birthday,” says Peter Salama, who directs UNICEF’s efforts in Ethiopia.

Since then, the country has improved that survival rate by about 60 percent. “So [Ethiopia has made] a tremendous achievement in the space of two decades,” Salama says.

This progress isn’t a result of expensive international aid or the recruitment of foreign doctors into Ethiopia. Instead, the country has invested in simple, bare-bone clinics scattered around the country, which are run by minimally-educated community health workers.

Foos Muhumed Gudaal is one of 35,000 rural health extension workers in Ethiopia. She practices at a post in the village of Walgo Yar in the eastern part of the country. The clinic is a simple, cement building with only two rooms: one for Gudaal to live in and one that serves as a consultation room. There is no electricity. There are no lights.

Gudaal’s role at the post is a bit like the old image of a small-town pediatrician. But she isn’t even a nurse. Instead, Gudaal, along with all the other health extension workers, has gone through a special, one-year training program.

Her salary also isn’t anywhere near that of a pediatrician. She earns roughly $35 each month.

But Gudaal can still treat the diseases that often cut a child’s life short in Ethiopia. And she can make sure kids in the village are up to date on their vaccines.

One of the main conditions Gudaal deals with is malaria. The parasite kills about 600 million people worldwide each year, and the vast majority of those deaths occur in children under age 5. Gudaal can diagnose and treat most malaria cases at her health post.

She can also easily treat diarrhea and respiratory infections, two other major killers of children in the developing world.

Because there is no electricity at the clinic, Gudaal has to rely on a kerosene-fired refrigerator to keep her vaccines cold. The aging fridge sits in a small shed next to the consultation room.

Gudaal lifts several vaccine vials out of the fridge. She not only administers immunizations, but she also keeps records for who in the village needs shots and boosters.

Since being launched a decade ago, this health extension program in Ethiopia has had a huge effect in the country, Salama says.

Quite simply, it has saved lives. “Children are now treated right across the country on a scale that was previously unheard of around the world,” he says.

“Take acute severe malnutrition, for which Ethiopia was famous in the ’70s and ’80s,” Salama says. “Today, successfully, these same lady health workers treat 300,000 children [each year] for severe malnutrition.” Previously, these children would have most invariably died, he says.

Despite these improvements, Ethiopia still has a long way to go when it comes to children’s health. Malnutrition is still the leading cause of death for children under age 5 in the country. Nearly 20 percent of Ethiopian babies are born underweight, weighing less than 5 1/2 pounds. And about 40 percent of kids don’t reach a normal height because of malnutrition.

But, Salama says, the beauty of Ethiopia’s health extension program is that it’s sustainable. It’s run by the government, not a foreign foundation or agency. So as long as there’s the political will, it’s able to reach kids across the country.

Original Story http://www.wbur.org/npr/255448192/simple-cheap-health-remedies-cut-child-mortality-in-ethiopia 

Related Stories

Ethiopia meets MDG 4 by cutting Under 5 mortality By Two-Thirds Since 1990

Sustaining gains in health sector crucial: Ministry

The Ministry of Health has said works in the health sector have to be undertaken in an organized way to sustain the change registered therein.
Speaking on 15th annual review of the health sector development held at Mekele town, Minister of Health Dr. Keseteberhan Admasu said it has been possible to bring about a change in the health development through expansion of basic health service and training 38 thousand health extension workers.

He said Ethiopia has become one of the seven countries that have already achieved the Millennium Development Goal in reducing child mortality. Read more

Ethiopia Reduces Mortality Among Children Under Five By Two-Thirds Since 1990

According to latest UN estimates, MDG4 Target Achieved 3 Years Ahead of Time

Ethiopian Minister of health Dr. Keseteberhan Admassu (second from left) holds up the sign declaring Ethiopia has met the Millennium Development Goal 4, reducing under 5 morality by two thirds, at a press conference in Addis Ababa on Friday. Angela Spilsbury of DFID (1st from left); Dr. Peter Salama, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia (3rd from left); and Pierre Mpele-Kilebou, WHO Representative to Ethiopia look on (Photo- ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Ose) 

Addis Ababa, 13 September 2013 – The Ministry of Health of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and UNICEF announced today that Ethiopia has reduced its under-five mortality by two thirds between 1990 and 2012- the required reduction for meeting the target of Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG 4) on child survival. In 1990, the under 5 mortality rate was one of the highest in the world at 204/1,000 live births; by 2012, this rate had been slashed to 68/1,000 live births.

The announcement follows the release of the latest global and country data from the Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (IGME) and the annual report of the Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed Initiative, co-chaired by the Governments of Ethiopia, India and the United States. Globally, the annual number of deaths among children under 5 fell, from an estimated 12.6 million in 1990, to 6.6 million in 2012. Over the past 22 years, the world saved around ninety million children’s lives that may otherwise have been lost. Ethiopia has made a significant contribution to this success- each year around 235,000 more children survive to their fifth birthday than was the case 20 years ago in the country.

This achievement was driven by political commitment, advances in science and technology, and improvements in health, nutrition and family planning services, particularly in the rural areas. Indeed, Ethiopia has, in many ways, been at the forefront when it comes to ensuring basic services for women and children in the country.  In particular, by bringing basic health services to the doorstep of the rural population, the Health Extension Programme has made a significant contribution. Since 2003, more than 38,000 Government salaried Health Extension Workers, the majority of them young women, have been deployed to over 15,000 health posts right across the country.  “Achieving ambitious targets in the social sectors has been a central pillar of the Government’s Growth and Transformation Plan,” said Dr Kesetebirhan Admasu, the Federal Minister of Health. “It is now clear that the key policy choices that we made in the health sector were the right ones.”

The announcement also carries broader significance since Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa and plays a critical leadership role on the continent through its current chairmanship of the African Union and its role in many other regional political and development fora. It also comes at a time when UNICEF and other development partners around the world are focused on accelerating progress in the final 1000 days until the MDG deadline. “In many ways the progress made in the health sector in Ethiopia has become a  powerful global symbol of what can be achieved in resource-constrained environments, and has given many international partners renewed faith in the enterprise of development,” said Dr Peter Salama, UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia. “Ethiopia has become the child survival benchmark for other countries, implicitly challenging them to do more for their own children.”