Dagfinn Høybråten, board chair of the GAVI Alliance, talks about his recent visit to Ethiopia and the status of the country’s child immunization programs.
Dagfinn Høybråten asks questions about health statistics at Adama Udie health post, just outside Addis Ababa
“Vaccines are the heart of our primary care,” Emebet Meshesha, a health extension worker, told me last month when I visited the Adama Udie health post in Ormoia, just outside Addis Ababa.
Ethiopia has made impressive gains with immunization, increasing DTP3 coverage to 79 percent in 2009 from 56 percent in 2000. With 81 million people, the third largest population in Africa, Ethiopia makes a critical contribution to global immunization levels, so it’s an important country for the GAVI Alliance.
Ethiopian health extension worker Emebet Meshesha demonstrates immunization to Dagfinn Høybråten and other visitors at Adama Udie health post
Dagfinn Høybråten and Wubitu Shumi, a mother of five, and Emebet Meshesha, health extension worker, pose for the camera with an immunization certificate
We’ve been supporting Ethiopia since 2002, not just with their vaccines but also with their ambitious development of local health services, including 34,000 locally recruited health extension workers like Emebet. Servicing her local community for more than five years now, Emebet and her partner, Feven Lema, together know all 1,100 households they serve, attending to births, visiting homes, and immunizing children. They were proud to show us their successes.
“People know, from previous experience of epidemics, the importance of vaccination,” Emebet told me.
That is why immunization is such a key part of a 16-element preventive health package, the core of her responsibilities, Emebet said.
Deeply moved by the dedication of these young health workers, who often work day and night, I asked about their motivations.
“I serve my people and my local community,” Emebet told me.
Together we walked to the nearby home of a family of five children, where mother Wubitu Shumi showed us her household’s immunization certificate and a series of sanitation, hygiene and family planning requirements.
Ethiopia’s immunization achievements are worthy of celebration. But with support from GAVI and other partners, Ethiopia is now looking to improve its coverage rates even further, reaching those children in the areas hardest to reach.
They also plan to introduce the new pneumococcal vaccine later this year, helping protect against pneumonia, the world’s largest killer of children. That will add another life saving intervention to Emebet’s health post package.
-Dagfinn Høybråten, GAVI Alliance Board Chair