Wednesday was the most full-on day, to the point that I had to back out of dinner. I just did not know how I was going to make it through a big dinner with more guests and another compelling story to tell. Of course I want to hear what they had to say, but I am only human; I had been up since 4 am to catch an early flight up to Bahir-Dar and I was burnt out.
The order of the day was to visit some healthcare facilities and see the work in action and the education that happens at grass roots level. In the Ethiopian healthcare system they have 17 hospitals (which is shocking for the 84 million people that live here), 739 regional health centres, 3039 health posts (small 1 or 2 room clinics) and about 30,000 health extension workers. There is still a long way to go. It needs to be better but I say let’s focus on the positives. Things are changing and progress is being made for the future and as this continues it will snowball; change takes time but it is all heading in the right direction.
I have to be honest and say that that way people live here is a million miles away from my life back in the UK; I could not imagine having to take my child to a dirty and broken room acting as a healthcare facility. But I also see things I would love to take back to the UK, like the sense of community and the way a small group of mothers work as a collective together and each save 5 birr a week (30 birr is one British pound, so you realise how little that is) so that when difficulties arise they can all take from the pot and sort out the problem as a group. Someone on twitter recently said to me those with the least give the most and I can honestly say that is definitely what I have observed here.
I received a text from my husband today to say one of our twin daughters had been sent home from school as they believed she has an ear infection. He was able to take her straight to the doctor’s surgery and she was seen quickly and they got some antibiotics. I saw a picture of her snuggled up on our sofa fast asleep letting the magic medicine do its job. What would happen here? Not a lot I expect, that sounds harsh but an ear infection is not life or death, the child would be comforted by their mother and would have to rest and sweat it out. People are tough here. Thank the Lord.
It is the simplest healthcare interventions here that can have a massive impact. Diarrhoea is still a cause of death in a country such as Ethiopia; people dehydrate very quickly when they have a lack of nourishment, poor quality water and hot weather. Thankfully each health centre and post now has an ORT corner. Sounds complex doesn’t it? Basically it stands for oral rehydration therapy and it is water and sachets of a substance such as diarlyte. This is enough to get the essential salts back into a person and gives them the opportunity to live through a bout of diarrhoea.
Whilst every health professional I have met has been welcoming and looked competent it is the health extension workers that I am most impressed with. Predominantly they are women and they run the health posts for about 4 hours a day, in that time they might give family planning advice, administer family planning drugs, give child vaccinations, test for HIV, diagnose illnesses (such as neonatal tetanus, polio, etc) in people that they wish to refer up to the next level of healthcare and they give education classes in nutrition, breastfeeding and sanitation. That is some job description to pack into 4 hours, but it does not stop there.
Oh no, they will then spend the rest of their day going house to house to meet their allocated families (500 each) to educate on home cleanliness, food combining to meet nutritional needs, giving pre-natal care and delivering babies amongst many other duties. Each health post has a small wood, straw and mud built classroom that they will use for their educational classes. These are also used as models to help educate the people about having a dwelling with more than one room and that animals should sleep separate to humans. Currently the sheep/ goats will sleep next to them to protect them from theft.
Photo caption: One of the first round of Health Extension Workers, she has been doing the job for 7 years now and yet looks barely old enough to have left school! She spoke to us knowledgably, passionatley and eloquently though as only a professional could.
I was interested to learn that Ethiopia spend a bigger proportion of their budget on healthcare than any other African nation, this really shows their determination to make strides forward and to change things for the better.
Whilst I was at the health centre I was very privileged to be able to briefly meet a new mother and her new-born daughter, she was just establishing breastfeeding having given birth half hour before. We congratulated the grandmother and her face turned from a stony scowl to a bright smile and pride shone through as he told us thank you. This birth that had taken place in the delivery room is a million miles away from the one this lady would have experienced even 10 years ago in Ethiopia. All births would have been in the home then and would not have been attended in the main. Now the health extension workers and/ or midwives will try to be with a lady as she labours to ensure things progress correctly.
Photo caption: The delivery suite is very basic and the paint is peeling but it was clean and there was instructions for sterilisation of utensils etc.
Because this lady had come to the health centre she was able to have some pain relief, oxytocin to help with the afterbirth and stiches to any tears if necessary. After resting up a while and feeding her baby she will be given a lift home in the ambulance and she is very happy for this new service.
The midwife we met was a petite and quietly spoken lady, well dressed and very beautiful. I asked her about twin births and she responded in Amharic for translation but the terms ‘complicated’ and ‘present breach’ gave me a good idea of the kind of issues she has, she told us she needed new breathing equipment if she could have anything but she was grateful for what she had.
We can all take a leaf from her book and be grateful for what we have, I know I am!
What is making you feel grateful today?
I’ll just add in a soundclip I made last week about this days visits too, enjoy!
I’ve just returned from Ethiopia, where I was travelling with a group of 11 other inspirational Mums and Moms as part of an expense paid trip courtesy of the ONE Campaign. Our trip is about success – Living Proof – of what is working and why it is important that we continue to support projects that are making a huge, measurable difference for less than one percent of the entire US budget. It is about letting more people know what a tremendous difference the US and UK are making in the lives of millions around the world.
It is also about adding thousands more voices to those already letting their elected officials know they support these life-saving programs. You can sign up to ONE using the widget on my blog right sidebar.
Image of Health Extension Worker – Karen Walrond/ ONE