UNICEF Executive Director sees progress of community-based programmes in Ethiopia

By Indrias Getachew

GONDAR, Ethiopia, 5 April 2011 – UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake visited a number of programmes that are following an equity-based strategy designed to reach out to the poorest and most vulnerable communities during his recent visit to Ethiopia.

"This is the equity strategy," said Mr. Lake. "It is in the communities that are in the greatest need that we can make the greatest difference. It is therefore not only the right thing to do, to work in these communities, but it is also the most effective thing."

In 1990, more than 20 per cent of children in Ethiopia would not survive to reach their fifth birthday. Today, that figure has been cut by at least half.

The Government of Ethiopia's flagship Health Extension Programme in Amhara Region, supported by UNICEF, is one of the initiatives saving lives. Launched in 2004, the programme provides integrated health, nutrition and sanitation services to underserved communities throughout the country. It has trained more than 34,000 health workers and placed two at health posts in every village.

These front-line health workers provide a package of preventive health, nutrition, hygiene and sanitation services, as well as pneumonia and malaria testing and treatment. The last two are crucial as pneumonia causes approximately 12 per cent of deaths of children under the age of five in Ethiopia, with malaria accounting for 7 per cent.

Community conversations

One morning during Mr. Lake's visit, women and children gathered at the Yisakdebir health post in Wogera District, Gondar, for the weekly outpatient therapeutic feeding programme.

It is part of the UNICEF-supported Community Based Nutrition Programme – now adopted as part of a national strategy – that is enabling timely identification and treatment of severe acute malnutrition at the local level. Health workers in more than 7,600 sites have been trained to screen for malnutrition and treat children in need with weekly supplies of ready-to-use therapeutic foods.

Mr. Lake, accompanied by Ahmed Abtew, Vice President of Amhara Region, joined villagers for their monthly community conversation, a key part of the programme.

The discussion included progress reports on the health of the community. On this occasion, health workers revealed that there are currently five severely malnourished children in the village, down from 31 last year. They said community discussions such as these, and resulting improvements – including better feeding practices, constructing latrines and promoting hand-washing – have also contributed to the decline.