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Doctor Views Ethiopia Public Health Training Initiative Work as Homecoming

Hailu Yeneneh considers his work with the Carter Center's Ethiopia Public Health Training Initiative a homecoming. Thirty-five years ago, his career began as a grassroots health officer in the Ethiopian government's Global Health Center. Now, after earning a medical degree and a doctorate, teaching, researching, and directing a research institution, Dr. Hailu says he finds himself back on the front lines, "chipping in whatever I can to advance public health in Ethiopia."

Dr. Hailu is a key player in a unique and cutting-edge public health strategy leveraging the expertise and resources of Ethiopia's universities.

Severe droughts are a recurring problem in Ethiopia, but it had been decades "since our university communities had gone out to serve the rural areas in response to disasters," explains Dr. Hailu. When the 2002 drought affected more than 14 million Ethiopians, the Center's Ethiopia Public Health Training Initiative was in a unique position to facilitate assistance to drought-affected communities using the training model it established within five of the Ethiopian universities.

The initiative's quick response to drought-related health and nutritional problems thwarted catastrophe and changed the course of Ethiopia's history. More than 2,000 students were deployed to rural, drought-afflicted villages to construct wells, provide health education, build latrines, gather data, and provide basic health care.

"It was a remarkable display of dedication and compassion. Many of these students stayed on past their required time commitment to continue providing these essential services," Dr. Hailu boasts. "We all learned a lot about ourselves and our country."

At the completion of the field intervention, the initiative began to integrate drought response training into the universities' curricula in an effort to prevent and better manage future drought-related health problems. With thousands of village level health workers now trained, the Ethiopia Public Health Training Initiative is positioned to have a quick and noticeable impact when disaster strikes again.

Dr. Hailu sees the initiative's most rewarding successes in the eyes of individuals.

"Crushed under the burden of poverty and illness and reliant on aid from others, Ethiopians now have reason to believe their community coalitions and ingenuity can have far greater impact than foreign aid or relief work ever could."

Dr. Hailu Yeneneh, resident technical adviser, Ethiopia Public Health Training Initiative

"Individual teachers who we had seen give up on their professions are now impassioned and invigorated to share knowledge with the next generation. And students who had watched the anguish of their fellow citizens helplessly and hopelessly from afar, are now, for the first time, experiencing the empowerment that comes with contributing to the alleviation of suffering," Dr. Hailu says.

Perhaps the greatest gift of the initiative is the self-reliance it fosters. Dr. Hailu knows firsthand the challenges of poverty and mortality that face Ethiopia and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, but he also has tremendous faith in his fellow Ethiopians. "This population can be productive if given the opportunity," he says. "Ethiopians could stand on their own feet."

Learn more about the Carter Center's Ethiopia Public Health Training Initiative

Dr. Hailu Yeneneh, EPHTI resident technical adviser, visits a newly built teaching hospital in Awassa, Ethiopia, during EPHTI's third annual program review in May 2004. This hospital will train health workers from Debub University.

Hailu Yeneneh, born in central Ethiopia in 1947, graduated as a health officer from the former Gondar Public Health College in 1970. After 11 years of service in rural health centers and regional health departments, he left to earn his medical doctorate from Addis Ababa University and a master's of science in epidemiology and biostatistics from McGill University, Canada. Dr. Hailu has taught and conducted research at Addis Ababa University, directed the National Research Institute of Health, and provided various consultancies. His research and teaching have focused on public health problems of importance to Ethiopia.
As resident technical adviser for the Carter Center's Ethiopia Public Health Training Initiative since February 2004, Dr. Hailu facilitates capacity-building of health science faculties in the seven partnering universities in Ethiopia. The initiative's main activities include facilitating the development of teaching materials by health science instructors, training instructors in pedagogical and writing skills, and equipping teaching facilities to ensure students acquire practical skills. 

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