The ultimate goal is one health care post for every 5,000 regional inhabitants attended by two Health Extension Workers. Then one larger health care center serving every five health care posts and one major hospital for each of the 800 districts of Ethiopia. Health Extension Workers train for one year after graduating high school in the communities in which they will serve. The Health Development Army volunteers have been key to the success of the program on a local level by educating their own communities.
In such a large, diverse country, there are cultural challenges to getting mothers and communities to adopt new health practices. In the southern region of Ethiopia when women were not coming in to the new Health Care Center to give birth, they figured out that the women did not feel comfortable with the birthing position on the table. When they changed it to a more culturally suitable option, women began to come in to give birth. Working with formal and informal community leaders has also proved important.
Dr. Abeba Bekele has kept her pledge from that moment when she lost that mother years ago as she continues to implement change in her country through her work with Save the Children. The government of one of the poorest countries in the world seems committed to preventative health care measures, and with education the thinking in rural communities is beginning to change. The great hope is that the newborn mortality rate will soon significantly change as well.
This is a slightly altered version of an article that appeared on ONE.org. ONE Mom Elizabeth Atalay was in Ethiopia as an International Reporting Project Fellow on a New Media Fellowship to report on newborn health. Follow her journey on Twitter with hashtag #EthiopiaNewborns.