Ministers from African Countries Visit Ethiopia’s Health Extension Workers on the Frontlines of Family Planning
In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, over the course of the next few days, thousands of family planning advocates will convene at the International Conference on Family Planning to share progress and chart the way forward for family planning. This is the third time I’ve had the privilege to be a part of this conference, which has continued to build on the visibility of the first conference that took place in 2009 in Uganda. The first conference created a platform for discussing global family planning and the second conference in 2011 was convened in Senegal to highlight family planning in Francophone Africa. This year, Ethiopia was chosen as the host country because of the progress the country has made in increasing the contraceptive prevalence. Their success is in part due to the work of Health Extension Workers (HEWs) who are on the frontlines of family planning service provision. While the HEWs are indeed “amazing” as one visiting health minister stated, the success in Ethiopia would not be possible without the high-level commitments made by those in government including health ministers.
Today, I accompanied a few visiting ministers of health and their staff from Nigeria, Uganda, and South Sudan on visits to a rural health post and health center. Located roughly 60km Northwest of Addis Ababa, both the Enchni Health Center and the Maruchobot Health Post realized recent gains in provision of family planning. Our first stop was the Maruchobot Health Post, which serves a population of 2,557 and 609 women of reproductive age. The post began providing family planning services five years ago and the two HEWs who work here are extremely proud of their accomplishments, which are also the result of active community engagement. Short-term methods dominate at this facility as well as at Enchni Health Center, the larger referral center and second stop on our visit. Sarah Opendi, Minister of State Health, Primary Health Care and Member of Parliament in Uganda said she learned how vital the community is in uptake of family planning in these two facilities. Dr. Margaretitto Leonardo, Minister of Health, Eastern Equatorial State, Republic of South Sudan, also commented on how data was prominently displayed at both the Health Post and the Health Center so all staff can see trends and progress. When discussing family planning, she said it could help a lot in Southern Sudan but there is a big need to address cultural taboos. That’s one of many issues that will be addressed during the conference this week. Dr. Leonardo said, “We have a lot to take home.” That’s what we aim to do here this week: share from the frontlines, continue to build visibility and political commitment for family planning, and take home lessons so we can continue to realize achievements like those Ethiopia has made. The visiting health ministers will convene again tomorrow to chart the way forward for family planning both collectively and in their respective countries. I look forward to hearing about their dialogue and commitments and I hope all were inspired by the HEWs we met today.