Saving a child too thin to be vaccinated

By Bethlehem Kiros

Fatima Yesuf, 25, brings her 8 months old daughter to the Metiya health center for checkup and to receive the Plumpynuts food supplementsAMHARA REGION, Ethiopia, February 2016 – Moyanesh Almerew, a Health Extension Worker in Arara Kidanemeheret Kebele (sub-district) in Amhara Region can testify to how bad the current drought in Ethiopia is for children. She is one of thousands employed as part of the nationwide Health Extension Programme, a community-based programme bringing basic health services to the doorstep of Ethiopia’s large, rural population. According to Moyanesh, they have had seen many more cases of severe acute malnutrition among children this year as compared to previous years and the cases they are receiving are worse. Among them, six-month-old, Fikir, whom Moyanesh saw during a home visit, stands out.

“You would not believe how thin she was when we first found her,” recounts Moyanesh, “She had never been vaccinated so when we tried to give her the vaccines, it was not possible because she was only skin and bones,” explains Moyanesh. When she was first brought to the Arara Kidanemeheret Health Post, the child weighed just 4.5 kg and the measurement of her mid-upper arm circumference – the criteria for identifying severe malnutrition – was 10.5 cm. She was severely acutely malnourished.

Thankfully, after receiving treatment, Fikir has gained 2kg after treatment, which included medicine and therapeutic food for several weeks, and her mid-upper arm circumference grew to 11.8 cm, which puts her in the moderately acutely malnourished range. She continues to receive outpatient treatment at the health post.

Moderately acutely malnourished children are enrolled in the World Food Programme-supported Targeted Supplementary Feeding programme through which they receive fortified blended food and vegetable oil for six months to aid their nutritional recovery. Both this and the UNICEF-supported treatment for severe acute malnutrition are routine responses which are all the more critical in a crisis.

Weynitu Demissie, 34, has a 7 months old daughter who is recovering from acute malnutrition
Weynitu Demissie (far left) walks a long distance to get to Arara Kidanemeheret Health Post where she receives therapeutic food for her seven-month-old malnourished daughter, Mastewal. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Nahom Tesfaye

Seven-month-old Mastewal is another child who has been treated at the Arara Kidanemeheret Health Post. Her mother, Weynitu, says that the drought has taken quite a toll on her family, especially on Mastewal. The child was extremely emaciated before receiving treatment for severe acute malnutrition. Weynitu walks for more than two hours over steep hilly ground to get to the health post for Mastewal’s treatment but she says it is worth all the hardship since her daughter has shown a lot of progress in the last few of months.

To Moyanesh, it is a relief to see the wonders that therapeutic food treatment does for the children. “I doubt that some of these children would have survived if they didn’t receive this treatment,” she says.

Across the country, 458,000 children are expected to need treatment for severe acute malnutrition in 2016. More broadly, 10.2 million people, 6 million of them children, are in need of emergency food assistance due to the drought. UNICEF, the Nutrition sector lead agency, continues to coordinate the nutrition emergency response. With the support of donors, UNICEF provides supplies for the management of severe acute malnutrition and supports the treatment of malnourished children through the community-based management of acute malnutrition, along with training, quality assurance and monitoring of the nutrition emergency response. UNICEF is also supporting efforts to provide drought-affected communities with access to clean water and health services to address major causes of child illnesses and deaths that have been exacerbated by the drought.

To continue nutrition emergency response activities over the coming months, additional funds of US$5 million are needed, subject to needs-based revisions. A further US$ 42 million is needed over the next four years to strengthen nutrition services and build resilience to future shocks among communities that are worst-affected by the drought.

Leadership matters: The case of community led total sanitation and hygiene

By Araya Mengistu


Ethiopia is a country showing strong progress in achieving global and national goals for WASH services. It has achieved the MDG target 7c for water supply. Although still behind for sanitation targets, considerable progress is made. As of 2012, 37 per cent of communities practiced open defecation, as compared to 92 per cent in 1990[1]

The progress on sanitation is mainly achieved through the national Health Extension Programme (HEP) and the community led total sanitation and hygiene (CLTSH) approach. CLTSH is an approach that helps to mainly rural communities to understand undesirable effects of poor sanitation, and through a process of “triggering” – igniting a change in behaviour – achieve sustained behaviour change leading to spontaneous and long term abandonment of Open Defecation (OD) practices. Since its introduction in 2006/7, CLTSH has remained the only instrument in Ethiopia to induce behaviour change of communities to consider construction of latrines and use them – discouraging the practice of open defecation. Although the achievements in the past decade are significant, the success of the approach varied significantly from place to place.

For example, the Oromia regional state, the largest in the country, consists 265 rural and 39 urban districts or woredas. Out of 6,531 kebeles (sub-districts each with an average population of 5,000) in rural areas, about 16 per cent are open-defecation free (ODF) – meaning no-one, including visitors and passing pedestrians, are openly defecating and all have access to basic latrines with handwashing facilities.

UNICEF supports 24 woredas in Oromia state between 2011 and 2015. Of the supported woredas, 24 per cent (116 of 477 kebeles) have achieved ODF status. Compared to regional average of 16 per cent, this is a huge achievement. Sire, one of the supported woredas, has recently been graduated in 2015 with 100 per cent performance, declaring all 18 rural kebeles ODF. Other woredas are at various stages. 11 woredas are between 20-50 per cent progresses, while the rest 12 woredas are of 0-10 per cent progress. Compared to these, Sire Woreda shows an outstanding performance.

Such exceptional achievement requires successfully overcoming a number of challenges. A key challenge is lack of thorough understanding of the steps involved in CLTSH and their importance. Usually CLTSH is about training facilitators and triggering communities. However, many practitioners agree that this is the easiest part. Rendering adequate supervision after the triggering stage and providing support that is necessary to sustain the momentum is the difficult part. Other challenges include diffusion of information to neighbouring communities that make the approach ineffective, lack of trainers with actual field experience, high staff turnover, poor coordination among stakeholders, weak commitment of staff and trained people and application of CLTSH without adequate or proper organisation and preparation.

Growing over all these challenges and as a result of four years of effort, Sire Woreda celebrated 100 per cent ODF achievement in April 2015, with all rural villages and kebeles free from open defecation.

Even though, some of these kebeles were declared ODF two or more years ago, , they continued to sustain their status despite the usual trend of falling-back to OD practice noticed as time elapses. This demonstrates an effective post-triggering activity by the Woreda that effectively complimented the planning and triggering activity.

How was this achieved? The Woreda administration leveraged existing structures to sensitize the leadership ladder down to village level on CLTSH and built it in to the regular reporting and evaluation process. This has helped to mobilize the largest possible support to the effort of Health Extension Workers (HEWs) and CLTSH facilitators, including teachers and students under the guidance and support of the Woreda Health Office. It has also avoided diversions of focus (including manpower, logistics, and resources) as CLTSH has become an official woreda priority.

Two notable practices can be praised in the woreda for this success.  (a) the technique of triggering one full kebele at a time in contrast to the usual practice of village by village, and (b) use of different post-triggering follow-up technique suited to context. The advantage of the first technique was twofold. It helped to avoid diffusion of information in to neighbouring communities. Since, focusing in one kebele at a time required more trained people, the coordinators called upon trained and experienced facilitators from adjacent woredas to support, which worked really well. On the other hand, the woreda experts consciously applied different post-triggering follow-up methods. In highland areas, they applied the ‘flag system’, where by communities themselves awarded white flags to households who have constructed basic latrines, and red flags to those who did not. In low land areas, students were organized to alert the community when they see any one defecating in the open, who will then ensure the person buries the excreta.

Currently, the Woreda continues to strengthen the community platforms for monitoring progress and pro-actively works with local leaders to provide the necessary guidance and technical support to sustain the achievement. As a result of this, they are expecting at least two kebeles to achieve secondary ODF, which includes upgrading of basic latrines to improved latrines (with washable slab, vent pipe, hole-cover) with hand washing facility by the whole community. The commitment of leaders, and subsequent effective coordination in the Woreda has benefited the wider community to keep children, women and the society at large healthy.

[1] Joint Monitoring Programme 2014.

Health Extension Workers: Key to Reducing Malnutrition in Ethiopia

Eneayehu Beyene and Tena Esubalew, helth extention workers Amhara rigion of Ethiopia.
Eneayehu Beyene and Tena Esubalew, Health Extension Workers in Delma kebele of Machakel woreda Amhara region of Ethiopia. Preparing their monthly report on community based nutrition activities to submit to the health. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Tsegaye

AMHARA REGION, 3 April 2014- Tena (meaning health in Amharic) Esubalew, 25, and Eneayehu Beyene, 27, are the heroines of Delma kebele as they have become the health confidants of the community. Delma Kebele (sub district), which is located in Machakel woreda (district) in the Amhara Region in northwest Ethiopia. Delma is a community 10 kilo meter from an asphalt road with a population of 4,733. As part of the EU funded Africa Nutrition Security Project (ANSP), UNICEF launched a community health programme (2012-2015) in 20 districts across three regions of Ethiopia to help the Government boost the nutritional status of children under two in communities like Delma where child malnutrition has been alarmingly high.

Key to the programme’s success has been the role of community Health Extension Workers (HEWs). From Delma, Tena  and Eneayehu have received intensive training with the support from UNICEF on nutrition so they can effectively carry out health extension duties.

“It is clear to us that three years ago no-one in this community could identify if a child was malnourished or not, this problem has been recently solved through the programme’s awareness strengthening on nutrition,” says Eneayehu

Breast Feeding-Tena Esubalew Health Extension Worker coaches Etenesh Belay positioning of the child for effective breast feeding
Tena Esubalew Health Extension Worker coaches Etenesh Belay positioning of the child for effective breast feeding Amhara rigion of Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Tsegaye

Eneayehu and Tena spend most of their days walking between households in Delma, visiting young mothers in the community and engaging them about the importance of child nutrition. They are trained to identify mild and moderate malnutrition and also growth faltering – based on which they provide age-tailored counselling. Additionally, they can diagnose if a child has Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) with or without complications. If a child is suffering from SAM with complications then the health extension workers will quickly have them referred to a health centre in the nearest town.

The health post where Tena and Eneayehu  work is  situated on top of a hill surrounded by open fields and grazing livestock. It is a busy hub frequented by the community’s young mothers, who are eager to learn about their children’s health status. The walls are plastered with graphs charting the health and development of the community’s under-five children. It is here that growth monitoring of all the community’s children under-two-years is conducted on a monthly basis and compared with World Health Organisation growth standards.

Breast Feeding-Yedeneku Aynalem 38 with her son Barkelegn 10 month
Yedeneku Aynalem 38 with her son Barkelegn 10 month, who is benefiting from community based nutrition Machakel woreda Amhara region. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Tsegaye

Yideneku Aynalem, 38, reaches up to a mud shelf in her hut and retrieves an illustrated booklet. “This is a very important document”, she says carefully opening the page to reveal a colourful chart. The HEWs have distributed  the materials printed with the support of UNICEF throughout the community to enable lactating mothers to track their child’s weight. Yideneku points to a graph and traces with her finger a green upward curve signifying the trajectory of a healthy child’s development based on optimum height and weight measurements. She explains with a smile how her 10 month old child Barkelegn Walelign’s growth has started to correlate with the green line on the chart. “I have been given the knowledge and it is now my responsibility to keep putting this learning into action so that my child can remain strong and healthy”, she says. Yidenku’s child is one of 270 children under-two years of age that have benefited from the EU-UNICEF supported package of high impact interventions in Delma.

The community results are encouraging: the rate of underweight young children has reduced from six per cent to one per cent in two years. “At the start of the programme, six children in the village were diagnosed with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) – this year only two children suffered this extreme health condition”, says, Tena.

Sudan and its partners learn how Ethiopia brings nutrition and health to doorstep of its people

By Sylvie Chamois

Team of visitors from Sudan getting a briefing on the Health & Nutrition programme
Salwa Abdelrahim Surkati Hassan, FMOH nutrition director, Nada Yahya Omer Hamza, WHO IMCI coordinator and Naglaa Osman Khidir Babikir, UNICEF nutrition officer visiting Tula health post in Babile woreda, East Hararghe zone of Oromia region ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Gemeda

From the 24th to the 28th of March 2014, the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) and UNICEF Country Office had the pleasure to host a team from Khartoum composed of the Sudanese FMOH (planning, nutrition and IMCI[1] departments), WHO, WFP and UNICEF.

The objective of the visit was to learn how Nutrition has been integrated in the Health system and how the Government of Ethiopia managed to bring Health & Nutrition services to the doorstep of its people.

Following an opening meeting with the State Minister of Health, H. E. Dr Kedede Worku, the team proceeded directly to the domestic airport heading to East Hararghe zone of Oromia region. They were introduced to the programme by the Zonal Health Department’s head, Ato Ali Abdulai, before visiting Babile and Gursum woredas.

In the two districts, they were able to visit and discuss with the one-to-five network, a team of Health Development Women; female Health Extension Workers working in health posts; Health Workers in health centres and finally, nurses and doctors in Bessidimo hospital.

Team of visitors from Sudan getting a briefing on the Health & Nutrition programme
Team of visitors from Sudan getting a briefing on the Health & Nutrition programme in Babile health centre, Babile woreda, East Hararghe zone of Oromia region on March 25, 2014
©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Gemeda

In Harare, Frehiwot Mesfin presented a project managed by Haromaya University, with the support of UNICEF and FAO, to produce complementary food for children under two years of age using exclusively locally available ingredients.

Back in Addis Ababa, the team had the opportunity to visit the local producing factory for Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food[2], Hilina PLC.

On the last day, during the debriefing meeting at the FMOH with Ato Birara Melese, head of the Nutrition unit, the visitors appreciated having been able to see all levels of the Health system, from the Federal Ministry down to the households with the one-to-five network. They said that they were impressed by the very well organised and functional system and confident that they can adapt the Ethiopian experience to integrate child and maternal Health & Nutrition to the lowest level. Sudan is working hard to accelerate the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal 4 – to halve child mortality by 2015.

38,000 health extension workers bring health services to the doorstep of rural Ethiopians

By Sacha Westerbeek

Ethiopia, 2012. A young girl in the arms of her caregiver – interacting with UNICEF’s Sacha Westerbeek and Health Extension worker in Romey Village, North Shoa Zone, Amhara Region. Photo credit: UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Getachew

Even before I joined UNICEF Ethiopia in June 2011, I had heard about its impressive health extension programme: health care is decentralised and over 30,000 health workers are deployed throughout the country and on Government payroll. A great story to tell!

By now, I’ve visited many health posts, run by these amazing women, generally in their early twenties from rural communities, dynamic and dedicated. Being educated and given the opportunity to work in their community, you can really see how this transforms their lives and status within the society in addition to the gains made in terms of health care. When one speaks about health in Ethiopia, I think about the health extension workers. To me, these young women represent the true heroes, or more precisely heroines, and one of the reasons why Ethiopia is doing so well in terms of its health indicators.

“Ethiopia Achieves the Child Survival Millennium Development Goal (MDG), three years ahead of time.” If you don’t follow global health debates closely, you may have missed this news, which broke the news in September 2013 and seriously hit the roofs in this nick of the woods.

Ethiopia, 2012. Health Extension Worker Haimanot Hailu and her partner walk through Romey Kebele (sub-district) North Shoa Zone, Amhara Region, for home visits carrying vaccine carriers. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Getachew

How did this happen in terms of policy choices? Around ten years ago, in order to address the increasing urban-rural gap in access to health services, the Government of Ethiopia launched the Health Extension Programme (HEP). This package of interventions was carefully tailored to the major causes of childhood mortality and morbidity – the epidemiology determined the priorities. The early years were not easy and, at several junctures, the system almost collapsed under the weight of expectations and the urgent imperative of delivering services to more than 80 million people in a vast and diverse country. And yet, every year, starting from a focus on basic prevention (insecticide treated nets, vaccination), the system has become stronger and stronger. Incrementally, best practice in curative-oriented, primary health care from around the world has been integrated into the HEP. So too has a multi-sectoral agenda that attempts to address root causes of childhood disease, such as food and nutrition security and water and sanitation. Community-based treatment of diarrhoea, pneumonia, malaria, severe acute malnutrition and, most recently, new-born sepsis and the inclusion of new vaccines, are all now central components.

Today, 38,000 health extension workers are deployed bringing health services to the doorstep of its rural people with real resources – becoming the cornerstone of the health system. Through my visits throughout this enormous country, I can see that the programme is sustainable and that the bilateral government donors, the World Bank and UN agencies, NGOs and civil society, philanthropic foundations, and the private sector, have all played a key role through their funding, their programmatic, operational and technical assistance, and their belief that Ethiopia could achieve the goals. Ethiopia could not have done this alone.

Read the full article here