The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has pulled together a congressional delegation trip to Ethopia, and they invited me to join them. In leading HTHH’s Faith-Based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide, I was invited to meet the faith leaders here to learn their stories and the position on the progress of healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies here in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has achieved the reduction of 2/3 of child mortality for 2015. However, they lag behind, as do many other countries, in addressing maternal mortality. Here, they have rolled out in the last ten years a robust Health Extension Worker (HEW) program of over 35,000 HEWs across the nation. The government manages the HEW program, placing 2 HEWs at a health post to which ideally every person can reach for primary health care services. If there is a health issue that requires a higher level of expertise, the patient is referred to a Health Center, a more substantial facility that has more resources and higher level of trained health workers. This HEW program is taking the lead in educating women about contraception so that they can better time and space their pregnancies. If these young women can delay their first pregnancy and space out their births at least 3 years apart, they have a better chance for their own and their children's survival.

First Lady Roman Tesfaye

Upon arriving, we quickly got ready and drove across town to the Prime Minister’s residence for a private meeting with the First Lady Roman Tesfaye. Ms. Tesfaye knew we were here to learn more about maternal, newborn, and child health and family planning here in Ethiopia, and she clearly had much enthusiasm discussing her country’s progress in these areas. She spoke at length about her passion for women’s health, particularly around family planning. She explained how family planning was the key to gender equality. With contraception prevalence doubling over the last five years from 15% to 29%, young women are emerging as leaders in their communities. Girls are able to stay in school through high school and then even attend one of their new 32 universities, and women are contributing to the rise of the economy.

Ms. Tesfaye noted, “Family planning is liberating our women. Not only can women now contribute to their own lives, but they are contributing to our country as a whole.” 

The goal for 2015 is to provide 66% women access to contraception or education about healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies. Right now, they expect the 2013 statistics to show that 40% of women have access some form of contraception. Their goal is ambitious, but they believe it is within reach.

Ethiopia has a good story to tell, and Ms. Tesfaye tells that story with elegance and quiet excitement. They have success in decreasing AIDS, decreasing poverty, decreasing infant mortality, and they are increasing their economy. They have also set a focus on decreasing maternal mortality; they are optimistic that the indicators will soon reveal success there due to spacing of pregnancies. It is an exciting moment to be here in the midst of this progress.