ETHIOPIA:Health Extension Workers Reducing Newborn Death

May 2013 Ertagov; This is the story of a Health Extension Worker (HEW), her name isTezaru Arsicha, working at Debub Mesenkele Health Post of Dale district in Sidama Zone. It is found in the South Ethiopia Regional State. She usually makes a daily visit of six to 8 houses in the village she is assigned to serve as health extension worker. A very important aspect of this visit is following pregnant mothers, looking after health of newborn babies and treating the newborn babies in case of severe illnesses.

Considering the distance of health centers, Ministry of Health in cooperation with donors is giving treatment to new born babies through HEWs. Newborn babies in Ethiopia would be sick of severe illnesses like diarhea, pneumonia, malaria and severe malnutrition. HEWs who offer this service have had intensive training for a week or two and occasional refreshing trainings since the treatment began two years ago as a pilot program in selected areas of the country.

Since then, she advised many to go to health centers or hospital to get immediate care for their babies while she saves the lives of 11 newborns through the treatment at their home for they couldn’t manage to go to health centers per her suggestion.

The visit ERTA made shows over the last two years her treatment saved 11 newborns. The result the HEWs show in just weeks of intensive training and a guideline at their hand is really impressive. The hope is this approach is going to save thousands every year as much of the deaths of infants is happening from the first day of birth to the 28th day of their age.

The service of a HEW in the countryside has another story. It is not only saving kids it is also about saving mothers who are often prone to death just due to birth related complications. HEWs in cooperation with trained voluntary community health development armies are increasing the awareness of mothers to go to health centers or hospitals for birth.

If they can’t go to a particular health center for various reasons HEWs and volunteers in the village attend the birth at home, which is safe as it is done with full kits necessary for a birth. Karimi Dedo is a mother who gave birth three weeks ago at a health center heeding the advice of the HEW and volunteers nearby. She got good hands to safely give birth to a baby boy.

Her baby was found sick in one of the three visits of Tezaru Arsicha,the HEW and volunteers. They normally do similar visits to a new born baby and mother in the first seven days after birth, which are found to be deadly periods in the life of newborn babies in the country.

He was sick of fever or malaria and the mother was advised to take him to the health center in 4 km distance, she told them she can’t afford to do so. Then the HEW gave the kid the treatment and followed him for the seven days thereafter. When we give him a visit at his home walking two kilo meters from the main road this past weekend, He is safe and sound.

It is indeed good news to see for myself that HEWs in cooperation with volunteers for health service (all are women from the village) have made significant reduction preventing the death of children and mothers; yet their death is still huge which is over 80 kids per one thousand and over 600 mothers per hundred thousand. Figures show Ethiopia suffers 700 infant deaths every day at current rates.

The hope is as the health extension workers reach most of the pregnant mothers and as the community gets aware of the consequences of unattended birth plus first day of illness for neonatal babies, the death rate is expected to further fall.

The increase in access of all season weather roads at every village in the coming years combined with expansion of health centers to make them within reach of villagers just in a couple of kilo meters makes lives of babies and mothers more safer than it used to be.

Dale district is a proof of that development in Ethiopia, which is up to considerably fall maternal and infant mortality to insignificant levels. It is going to take time to get this goal done; yet the country has done it to an impressive distance like in this district through its HEWs, volunteers and donors. And it appears, despite the long way to go, it is on the right truck with the right system to unarguably achievable target.

That is the lesson Sidama Zone of South State provides in a UNICEF media tour intended to see the progress of mother and child health especially in treating severe newborn diseases that are deadly in Ethiopia.


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