Emory Report
April 23, 2007
Volume 59, Number 28

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April 23, 2007
Ethiopia sets example in health education for other African nations

by meryl bailey

How can African countries build a sustainable health care work force to combat the serious health problems confronting their populations? This is the question that participants asked themselves during the three-day Ethiopia Public Health Training Initiative Replication Conference held in February. Ministers of health, education, science and technology from 10 African governments convened in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to discuss the importance of health education training in building strong, sustainable health systems and to learn how Ethiopia, through its partnership with The Carter Center, has built a unique system designed to train qualified health workers to meet the needs of the country.

Health challenges in Africa are staggering. One of the greatest obstacles to addressing these challenges is the shortage of health care workers currently serving the continent. Without access to health care provided by qualified professionals, people succumb daily to preventable maladies such as diarrhea, malnutrition, malaria and tuberculosis.

Compounding the problem, many health programs around the world are designed for broader regions and then instituted in different countries with little regard for their unique cultural diversity. One of the main priorities of the Ethiopia Public Health Training Initiative is to develop learning materials based on Ethiopian experience to ensure that pre-service training will be directly relevant to the country’s health practices and priorities. The program’s aim is to train a skilled national health care work force to serve the largest and most populous country in the Horn of Africa.

The Ethiopia Public Health Training Initiative Replication Conference represented a culmination of 10 years of close collaboration between Ethiopia’s ministry of health, ministry of education and seven Ethiopian universities. Ethiopia’s government officials and faculty, together with the support of The Carter Center and other partners, developed workshops and curricula to specifically address the country’s life-threatening illnesses. The result of the initiative’s efforts is a public health education system prepared by Ethiopians for Ethiopia and a belief that strong community coalitions are a sustainable solution to relieving the burden of preventable illness in the country. Now the country finds itself in a position to demonstrate its approach to other African nations.

“This conference is a turning point for the program. The opportunity to meet with high-level officials and illustrate to them the countless results of the initiative has the potential to change the face of health care training in Africa,” said Joyce Murray, director of The Carter Center’s Ethiopia Public Health Training Initiative and professor at Emory University’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. “Even if these countries do not immediately replicate the program, the conference is a success, as we’ve planted the seeds of the initiative’s philosophy and introduced a lot of possibilities for the future of these countries.”

During the conference, representatives from the governments of Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Southern Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda learned about the initiative’s activities through a series of presentations and discussions. To see the program’s accomplishments firsthand, 60 attendees traveled by bus to Debre Zeit, southeast of Addis Ababa, to visit Defense College’s facilities and tour two nearby health centers.

“It is unusual to have such a meeting with inter-country ministers. We often meet one on one, but the group setting here is really conducive to African collaboration,” said Tabita Shokai, minister of health of the government of Sudan.

During the conference’s final discussion, several ministers expressed a desire to return to their home governments and relay Ethiopia’s unique health education model, with the hopes of adapting its elements to their own countries’ situations.