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In rural Ethiopia, health extension workers bring care to new mothers

WONDO GENET, Ethiopia, 6 August 2010 – Beaming with pride, new mother Martha Getachew arrives at the Wosha and Soyama village clinic in central Ethiopia. She is greeted fondly by community health workers, known here as ‘health extension workers.’

VIDEO: 15 July 2010 - UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on a programme in Ethiopia working to halve the number of women who die from complications related to pregnancy.


Ms. Getachew, who works as a farmer in the region with her husband, now has six children. But her youngest child is being raised differently from the previous five. When she was four months pregnant, health extension worker Senait Shelemew visited Ms. Getachew at home and persuaded her to take advantage of free health care during her pregnancy.

Bringing care to women

An estimated 60 women die every day in Ethiopia from complications related to childbirth – mostly because they live in rural areas and can’t get to a clinic.

© UNICEF Video
Health Extension Worker Senait Shelemew visits a pregnant woman to encourage her to take advantage of free health care at her local clinic in Wondogenet Ethiopia.

To reverse this trend, UNICEF and Government of Ethiopian Government's Federal Ministry of Health are working to set up new facilities and train new health workers across the country. Clinics are now coming to the people.

Nearly 34,000 health extension workers have been trained and sent out to rural areas to advise women that free medical help is available. Nearly 15,000 health posts have been set up throughout the country. The aim is to halve Ethiopia's maternal mortality rate, which in 2005 stood at 720 for every 100,000 live births.

“If we find a pregnant woman during our door-to-door services, we advise her to come and use all types of services, including ante-natal care,” said Ms. Shelemew.

Healthy babies, healthy mothers

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-2283/Holt
A doctor weighs Abausnasm Dodum, 40, on a scale at the Andido Health Post in Andido Village, Ethiopia.

Thanks to the health extension programme, Ms. Getachew received qualified medial help during her pregnancy, and her new baby is healthier because she is being exclusively breastfed.

“We used to give water to our babies before,” she said. “But Senait taught us not to give water. Rather, she told us to breastfeed newborn babies with the first milk, colostrum. I gave her the first milk. I didn’t give any water to my baby.”

The programme, which also aims to reduce the country’s under-five mortality rate, provides comprehensive immunization for infants and children.



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