If you have followed my travels or have read my blog over the years you know that Ethiopia is my favorite country in the world. There is something about the people, the culture, its beauty and the sheer size of the country I love. Even though I love Ethiopia I have never been under a grand illusion that it is a unified country. There have been mass arrests and killings in Oromia, journalist and freedom fighter imprisonments, and now a civil war with mass atrocities and forced starvation against the people of the Tigray region. In fact, just this week reports of an airstrike on a market near Tigray’s capital Mekele killed at least 64 people and wounded over 100.
Even as war is still happening in Ethiopia’s northernmost region, its national election officially wrapped on Monday without voting in Tigray, of course. Now, ballots are being tallied across the country with the likelihood that the current prime minister Abiy Ahmend will be reelected.
This week I am a guest of Save the Children on an observational trip in Ethiopia. I, along with three distinguished US nurses, are here to learn about Ethiopia’s frontline health workers, the 38,000 women strong health extension workers. The health extension workers were put into place by the Ethiopian government in 2003 and now through the work of Save the Children and other partners, health extension workers can diagnose and treat malaria, malnutrition, pneumonia, diarrhea and can also administer implantable and injectable contraceptives.
You can learn more about frontline health workers on Save the Children’s new site: Every Beat Matters
In speaking with Dr. Birkety Mengistu, the Maternal Newborn Child Health Advisor at Save the Children’s Addis Ababa’s office, we learned that there is an ample supply of family planning options for any woman who wants it. There are, however, cultural taboos about contraceptives causing many women to forego family planning altogether.
With the vast majority of Ethiopian still living as subsistence farmers and each woman having on average 4.8 children it is essential for women to not only have access to family planning, but also a shift in cultural imperatives that dissuade women from making decisions about their own lives.