Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Ethiopian health extension worker Emebet Meshesha demonstrating immunization to Dagfinn Høybråten and other visitors at Adama Udie health post.

Vaccines: The Heart of Primary Care in Ethiopia

April 27, 2011

“Vaccines are the heart of our primary care,” Emebet Meshesha, a health extension worker, told me last month when I visited the Adama Udie health post in Ormoia, just outside Addis Ababa.

Vaccines: The Heart of Primary Care in Ethiopia

Dagfinn Høybråten and Wubitu Shumi, a mother of five, and Emebet Meshesha, health extension worker, pose for the camera with an immunization certificate.

Ethiopia has made impressive gains with immunization. From 2000 to 2009, the country has done an admirable job of increasing the percentage of children immunized with the three-dose diptheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP3) vaccine from 56 percent to 79 percent. With 81 million people, the third largest population in Africa, Ethiopia makes a critical contribution to global immunization levels. It’s clearly an important country for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations, also known as the GAVI Alliance.

We’ve been supporting Ethiopia since 2002, not just with their vaccines but also with their ambitious development of local health services, including 34,000 locally recruited health extension workers like Emebet. Servicing her local community for more than five years now, Emebet and her partner Feven Lema together know all 1,100 households they serve, attending to births, visiting homes, and immunizing children. They were proud to show us their successes.

“People know, from previous experience of epidemics, the importance of vaccination,” Emebet told me.

That is why immunization is such a key part of a 16-element preventive health package, the core of her responsibilities, Emebet said.

Deeply moved by the dedication of these young health workers, who often work day and night, I asked about their motivations.

“I serve my people and my local community,” Emebet told me.

Together we walked to the nearby home of a family of five children, where mother Wubitu Shumi showed us her household’s immunization certificate and a series of sanitation, hygiene, and family planning requirements.

Ethiopia’s immunization achievements are worthy of celebration. But with support from GAVI and other partners, Ethiopia is now looking to improve its coverage rates even further, reaching those children in the areas hardest to reach.

They also plan to introduce the new pneumococcal vaccine later this year, helping protect against pneumonia, the world’s largest killer of children. That will add another lifesaving intervention to Emebet’s health post package.

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