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Making healthcare happen for rural Ethiopian families

Mothers and children in a village outside Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Mothers and children in a village outside Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. Photo credit: ONE/Karen Walrond

We’ve learned about maternal and child health care from a number of different perspectives. In Addis Ababa, we visited the Hamlin Fistula Hospital, a refuge for women seeking treatment for devastating birth injuries. In a village outside Bahir Dar in northwest Ethiopia, we visited the Anbesame Health Center. In each case, the major hurdle to getting even the most basic health care — childhood immunizations, antibiotics, prenatal care, or rehydration therapy after a life-threatening bout of diarrhea — is transportation. Simply being able to get to a hospital or health center is next to impossible for villagers whose only method of transportation is their feet. There’s no pharmacy to visit, no 911 to call, no ambulance that arrives in an emergency.

To address this problem, the Integrated Family Health Program (IFHP; a USAID-funded program through Pathfinder International) has partnered with JSI and the Ethiopian Ministry of Health to establish rural health posts. These health posts — the one we visited was a shack stocked with a desk and basic medical supplies — are staffed by trained health extension workers. Health extension workers are local community members who have received training in basic medical procedures, and act almost like family doctors. They immunize children. They provide advice on nutrition and sanitation and family planning. They provide treatment for malaria and diarrhea. Often, they’re the only health care available to a community of 5000 or more people.

Rural homes in Ethiopia

Rural homes in Ethiopia. Photo credit: ONE/Karen Walrond

Health extension workers go door-to-door, checking on families, teaching them how to cook nutritious meals and keep their homes clean. The homes we’ve seen in rural areas are small mud structures with no running water or electricity (or a single electrified bulb residents hesitate to turn on because they can’t afford the utility cost). Sheep are often kept inside the house so they won’t be stolen.

The role of health extension workers is vital…in the literal sense of the word.

From October 6-13, 2012, the ONEMoms will post daily dispatches from Ethiopia. Visit the ONEMoms website to read posts from all the bloggers, follow the #ONEMoms hashtag on Twitter and Instagram, and like the ONEMoms Facebook page.

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Asha Dornfest is the co-author of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less and the publisher of Parent Hacks, a site crammed with tips for making family life easier.

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