Experience Working in Ethiopia: HPC Fellow, Malat Habtewold, Amref Health Africa

Malat Habtewold is a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow working with Amref Health Africa. At Amref Health Africa , Malat’s role was to develop a Knowledge Management Platform to be accessible to all Amref Health Africa staff in Ethiopia. Read on to learn about her placement as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow.

Living in a country that is still in the process of developing comes with some benefits as well as challenging things. As part of a developing country, it is normal to face aspects like social injustice, poverty, and corruption. Some things that helped me during my time in Ethiopia included keeping an open mind, having empathy, and being aware of my surroundings.

Even though I was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia I left at an early age to pursue my education in the western world. It felt good to be back home working at Amref Health Africa through the Hilton Prize Coalition Fellows Program. Amref Health Africa works throughout Ethiopia in Addis Ababa, Afar, Amhara, Benishagul-Gumuz, Gambella, Oromia, Ethiopia-Somalia, and SNNP regions on creating stronger health systems through building the capacity of the Health Extension Program. The Health Extension Program works within the Government of Ethiopia’s Health Sector Transformation Plan (HSTP), with a focus on ensuring health equity by serving women and children and reaching the most disadvantaged, inaccessible communities, including Ethiopia’s pastoralists and semi-pastoralist communities.

My role at Amref Health Africa was to develop a Knowledge Management Platform to be accessible to all Amref Health Africa staff in Ethiopia. Specifically over the course of the six month fellowship, I reviewed existing knowledge storing platforms and determined specific needs for Amref Health Africa Ethiopia knowledge management then designed one platform for knowledge management to be accessible by all staff, providing a toolkit and necessary training for staff.

Throughout the course of my fellowship, I had the privilege of visiting some Amref Health Africa sites. My first trip was to Awash, Afar, which is the market town in central Ethiopia located in Zone 3 of the Afar region above the gorge of the Awash River. It is located about 217 Kilometers from the capital city. I went with some of my coworkers, donor representatives, and AMREF Netherlands colleagues. We drove about 4 hours to get to our destination where we were having a meeting with all the staff working at the health centers.

The purpose of the visit was to meet with the staff at the health centers where Philips backpacking equipment was dispersed and talk with the project managers and staff to address some of the challenges they faced implementing programs with the equipment. Health Extension Workers, nurses, and physician had all but encouraging feedback on the implementation of backpack kits–especially the ultrasound. There had been an increase of mothers visiting the health center for the sole purpose of hearing their babies’ heartbeat. It had brought about behavioral change with the Mothers which is unique to the pastoralist community.

Some of the challenges the staff faced at the health center included inadequate training with the equipment, so staff did not know how to interpret abnormal or unique pregnancies while they operated the ultrasound equipment. It was very interesting for me to get first-hand experience on how they address some of the issues. The men were very forth coming and very comfortable in their own skin to talk about their challenges and the benefits they acquired whereas the women were very quiet and wouldn’t speak unless spoken too. This group explained the need for more training in order to read and explain some of the difficult cases they encounter.

Overall the field visit was very encouraging. To see the positive impact of health outcomes and the distribution of the backpack equipment both in the health post and health centers had brought about huge influence in the pastoralist community.

My view about Afar in general changed after I visited Semera, Afar, which is located about 591 kilometers from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is the capital city of Afar where the university resides. Afar is the place where the human species originated from some million years ago. It is a pastoralist community where most of the community are nomads. I went to visit one of the projects to document success stories and lessons learned by talking to members of the community. The project’s main aim was to strengthen economic opportunities and resilience of the most vulnerable communities to human-induced and natural disaster crisis through maintaining the well-being of the community and increase productivity.  I had a chance to be part of the mothers conference that is held in the health post monthly. Their main purpose is to have pregnant mothers go to health centers to track their pregnancies and eventually have their babies. Once the babies are born, they make sure they are vaccinated and educate the mothers to take their babies to the health centers when they are sick which was not the norm before. This conference has brought about behavioral changes in their community. They also receive nutritional training such as what kind of nutrient is necessary for their well-being of their children. Afar people are very welcoming people and eager for a change.

 My overall experience in Ethiopia was eye-opening, and I was able to see my country on a whole different level. With the experience I acquired from Amref Health Africa I am one step forward to making a difference.

Subscribe to the HPC Newsletter