Ethiopia has one of the highest rates of mother, infant and child mortality in the world.
Almost 87% of Ethiopia’s population live in rural areas where the construction of major local health facilities is not economic. However, in 2003 the Federal Government introduced a major community health extension programme. It focused on Health Posts, with a target – now virtually achieved – of one Health Post in every kebele. A kebele is an administrative unit with typically a 4,000 – 8,000 population.
A Health Post comprises 3 or 5 small rooms. Each Health Post is staffed with 2 or 3 Health Extension Workers (HEWs), employed by the woreda (local government). Health extension workers are all female with a minimum Grade 10 education and a 1 – 2 year training period in theory and practical. They spend more than 50% of their time on home visits which often means arduous treks in the mountains with their equipment. Their work is mainly preventive concentrating on good nutrition, safe hygiene, and clean water. Additionally, HEWs provide maternity care, baby care, vaccinations, and family planning advice and materials. The most frequent problems are malnutrition, water-borne diseases including typhoid, acute respiratory infections, parasites, and malaria. HIV/AIDS, pneumonia, and TB are not uncommon. They also provide basic first aid.
Health extension workers organize group meetings at the Health Post on specific subjects and train local village women in basic health care. We never fail to be impressed with the highly efficient work of Health extension workers. Significant health issues are referred to the nearest Health Centre or the new Maternity Unit at Lalibela Hospital which Lalibela Trust recently completed.
As the population has grown, we continue to support the work of the Health extension workers by building new Health Posts and replacing early Health Posts – which were typically of wood and mud construction, not long-lasting, very unhygienic, and sometimes completely collapsed.
Kewabahara Health Post in use until 2018
Our new Health Post
Lalibela Hospital Maternity Unit
“A dream comes true”
In 2003, Dr. Hugh and Catherine Sharp first travelled to Ethiopia as tourists. In Lalibela they visited the hospital and were shocked at the conditions.
Subsequent annual visits revealed no significant improvements. In 2015 they were approached to fund a new stand-alone self-contained maternity unit in the grounds of Lalibela hospital. The new unit has out-patient and in-patient facilities – the latter comprising five wards, labour and delivery rooms and two operating theatres. There were major administrative delays and the inevitable cost increases. The unit fully opened in July 2020. There is huge pride in Lalibela that for their small community they have such an excellent resource.
In 2018, a team from Somerset-based Festival Medical Services reviewed the maternity “ambulance” situation and in 2019 and 2020, a visiting group of doctors and students from the Royal Cornwall Hospital established links for future support including training.
A valuable by-product of the Maternity Unit is that it allowed the whole Hospital to be upgraded in the Ethiopian hierarchy. There are now 10 doctors for the 300,000 population it serves, compared with only one 10 years ago.
Total Benefitting from all these Health Projects
15 Health Posts completed. Construction will start soon on the 16th.
Total Beneficiaries: 86,000 for the 15 completed.
The population served by the hospital is around 300,000