Ethiopia's Adare Hospital
I've been in Ethiopia for almost two weeks now, and this trip has reminded me that I experience something very specific when I visit Africa. I feel more alive here, more able to breathe and absorb what’s happening around me. Every thing is heightened; interactions more meaningful. And yet there’s a push-pull, an incongruence: I’m brutally aware that life is difficult here, the poverty immense, the challenges people face seemingly insurmountable.
Ethiopia finds itself on the Horn of Africa, landlocked by countries in conflict: Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti. Ethiopia is the second most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated 92 million people. Of those 92 million, some 90% meet the development indicator for poverty. And I see it everywhere around me: In Addis, in Hawassa, in Bahir Dar, in the places in between. It’s painfully evident that while there is beauty, there is also turbulence; there is also strife.
As in most developing countries where population is high and infrastructure low, access to proper health care is a particular challenge. In my last post, I wrote about Ethiopia’s innovative Health Extension Program, which aims to bring health care to all of Ethiopia’s citizens. It’s a monumental task; the efforts needed demanding.
In my time here I've visited health posts, health centers, and hospitals. Hawassa’s Adare Hospital stands out. It serves 350,000 people, which is hard to imagine given the tight quarters. The grounds are lush with greenery and overflowing with people. Men and women crowd the waiting areas, and we watch as doctors and nurses in white coats rush about.
In Ethiopia, the Health Extension Program has a special focus on maternal and child health which means there has been a huge push to get women to deliver in health centers and hospitals as opposed to home, where complications often mean death for the baby or the mother. When I visit, Adare is filled with pregnant women and newborn babies. I meet women in labor as they lay on their sides on cots, worn blankets draped over their pregnant bellies. They’re surprisingly quiet for the pain I know they must be in.
I meet 20-year-old Shibire Mataso, who gave birth just two days ago to a beautiful baby girl. Usually, I am told a mother returns home 6-8 hours after delivery, but Shibire’s labor was a complicated one. The doctor on call is acting as my translator and he tells me she had obstructed labor. “If she had delivered at home, the baby would have died,” he says. It is a blessing that Adare’s doctors were there to walk her through labor, a blessing that her baby girl survived.
At one point, I scrub up and walk into an operating room. The walls are cracking, aged. The room seems barren, the equipment outdated. This is where women give birth by cesarean section. I am told that I can see a c-section in action, but when I get there the room is empty. Still, the nurses and doctors are proud to show me where they perform lifesaving surgeries—not just for expectant mothers, but for any Ethiopian citizen in crisis who is able to reach the hospital in time.
Next, in the neonatal ward, I meet a mother whose newborn developed sepsis due to a prolonged delivery. I don’t get the mother’s name because her eyes are heavy, her baby obviously struggling. But the doctor assures me they can help him; the outlook is good for this child.
I am moved to tears by what I see at Adare, but there is hope that this hospital—and hospitals like it—will be updated and expanded to serve a growing demand.
Over the sounds of construction, the doctors tell me that for the past two years, Adare Hospital has been building a special unit for mothers and children. The government-funded expansion will take Adare from 10 to 15 beds for mothers to 20 to 25 beds. All together, the expansion will include 50 to 60 beds for women and children. It will also provide a NICU, something Adare doesn’t currently have. Now, newborns in need of intensive care are referred to a larger hospital, an undisclosed distance away. The new extension, which they estimate will open in two weeks time, will include some 45 incubators and will ease a heavy burden.
Adare's expansion is evidence of Ethiopia's commitment to easing a burden women have held for too long. The move to health center and hospital deliveries is a powerful one, a lifesaving one, and the Ethiopian government’s adoption of a special focus on maternal and child health programming is heartening.
I see hope around me, in the eyes of the women I meet, in the eyes of the babies they hold. I see this hope and feel strongly that when a government vows to care for its women, there is great hope for the future of that nation.
I’ve flown to Ethiopia as a Newborn Health Fellow with the International Reporting Project. For the next two weeks, I will be meeting with experts on maternal and newborn health issues; going on site visits to some of this country’s most successful projects; and meeting with World Pulse community members who call Ethiopia home.