June 6, 2005
EPHTI is a homecoming for Ethiopian doctor
This article was written by several carter center staff members
Hailu Yeneneh considers his work with The Carter Center’s Ethiopia Public Health Training Initiative (EPHTI) a homecoming. Thirty-five years ago, his career began as a grassroots health officer in the Ethiopian government’s Global Health Center.
Now, after earning a medical degree and a doctorate, teaching, researching and directing a research institution, Yeneneh finds himself back on the front lines, “chipping in whatever I can to advance public health in Ethiopia,” he said. Yeneneh is a key player in a cutting-edge public health strategy leveraging the expertise and resources of Ethiopia’s universities.
Born in central Ethiopia in 1947, he graduated as a health officer from the former Gondar Public Health College in 1970. After 11 years of service in rural health centers and regional health departments, he left to earn his medical doctorate from Addis Ababa University and a master’s of science in epidemiology and biostatistics from McGill University, Canada.
Yeneneh has taught and conducted research at Addis Ababa University, directed the National Research Institute of Health, and provided various consultancies, focusing on Ethiopian public health problems. As resident technical adviser for EPHTI since February 2004, he facilitates capacity-building of health science faculties in the initiative’s seven partnering universities in Ethiopia. Its main activities include helping to develop teaching materials by and for health science instructors, training instructors in pedagogical and writing skills, and equipping teaching facilities to ensure students acquire practical skills.
Severe droughts are a recurring problem in Ethiopia, but Yeneneh said it had been decades “since our university communities had gone out to serve the rural areas in response to disasters.” When a 2002 drought affected more than 14 million Ethiopians, EPHTI was in a unique position to facilitate assistance to drought-affected communities using the training model it had established in the Ethiopian universities.
The initiative’s quick response to drought-related health and nutritional problems thwarted catastrophe, and perhaps even changed the course of Ethiopia’s history. More than 2,000 students were deployed to rural, drought-afflicted villages to construct wells, provide health education, build latrines, gather data and provide basic health care.
“It was a remarkable display of dedication and compassion. Many of these students stayed on past their required time commitment to continue providing these essential services,” Yeneneh said. “We all learned a lot about ourselves and our country.”
After the field intervention, the initiative began to integrate drought-response training into the universities’ curricula in an effort to prevent and better manage future drought-related health problems. With thousands of village-level health workers now trained, EPHTI now is positioned to have a quick and noticeable impact if disaster should threaten again.
Yeneneh said he sees the initiative’s most rewarding successes in the eyes of individuals. “Individual teachers we had seen give up on their professions are now impassioned and invigorated to share knowledge with the next generation,” he said. “And students who had watched the anguish of their fellow citizens helplessly and hopelessly from afar are now, for the first time, experiencing the empowerment that comes with contributing to the alleviation of suffering.”
Perhaps EPHTI’s greatest gift is the self-reliance it fosters. Yeneneh knows first hand the challenges of poverty and mortality that face Ethiopia and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, but he also has tremendous faith in his fellow countrymen and women. “This population can be productive if given the opportunity,” he says. “Ethiopians could stand on their own feet. [Previously] crushed under the burden of poverty and illness and reliant on aid from others, Ethiopians now have reason to believe their community coalitions and ingenuity can have far greater impact than foreign aid or relief work ever could.”