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Ethiopia: Training health extension workers in South Wollo

A 2007 national review in Ethiopia found that the knowledge of health extension workers was not sufficient and they could only treat diarrhoeal diseases. So, last year, the Government of Ethiopia rolled out a plan to ensure that every extension worker is also trained in the treatment of pneumonia. This training is now being funded by development partners in support of the government and we are one of the organisations working to implement and monitor this vital training in South Wollo (an area roughly the size of Wales).

On our way to visiting South Wollo zone, Ethiopia to visit our life-saving health projects with Katy Webley, the Director of Policy and Programmes for Save the Children UK in Ethiopia, we visited a training session of Health Extension Workers.

What struck me was how young some of the health extension workers were – all of them are women in this region. They are instrumental in reducing maternal and child mortality in Ethiopia as it is their skills and medication which provide basic healthcare to the majority of Ethiopians, especially in rural areas.

In collaboration with UNICEF and in support of the Government’s Health Extension Package training programme, we are rolling out 6-day training programmes to train the extension works to administer antibiotics for the treatment of the biggest killer of children under five – pneumonia. They’re also trained to treat acute malnutrition, as well as provide some postnatal care, including the treatment of asphyxia, which currently claims 26% of newborn babies’ lives.  The six day training is made up of clinical training in the morning and classroom training or study in the afternoon and is one of the first to be done in South Wollo. It’s a great start but there is still a lot to do and many more health workers to train!

Every ‘Kebele’ [village] has one health extension worker to service it, but these areas can be very large and might involve moving over difficult terrain. (South Wollo is beautiful and very mountainous – but the terrain doesn’t help when you are having a complicated labour and are trying to get help!) The health extension workers therefore rely on community health volunteers to encourage community members further away to attend the health post. But some women don’t – and we are working to understand why this is.

Find out more about work in Ethiopia

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