Project 3: Improving maternal and child health in the South Ethiopian Rift Valley

Health of a nation is its critical determinant of economic growth. “Health is not everything in life, but without health, life is nothing”. There is also a correlation between economic development and high life expectation. Reduction in adult mortality rates accounts for about 11% of recent economic growth (Jamison, Lau and Wang, 2006). Ethiopia is a country with high maternal and child mortality, both of which are mainly associated with reproductive health problems, malnutrition and morbidities. Empowering women, providing health education and improving the access and utilization of primary health care services can significantly reduce maternal and childhood mortality rates.  Malnutrition is among the top contributing factors for high mortality of children under 5. According to the World Health Organization, malnutrition is the underlying contributing factor in about 45% of all child deaths, making children more vulnerable to diseases. Maternal malnutrition, poor feeding practices (both complementary feeding and breastfeeding), food insecurity, and poor public health practices are contributing to child and infant mortality. The prevalence of stunting (40%), underweight (25%) and wasting (10%) is extremely high in Ethiopia (Ethiopia Mini Demographic and Health Survey, 2014). This is not only affecting the present-day well-being of the population, it leaves scars such as mental retarding which may compromise present and future generations. In Ethiopia, maternal mortality is high and it is associated with malnutrition. Only a small proportion of the deliveries is attended by skilled health personnel. Very little ante and postnatal care and insufficient family planning services provide coverage. The first Growth and Transformational Plan (GTP) review report indicates that skilled health professionals attended only 15 % of all deliveries and only 13 % of mothers benefited from postnatal health services (MoFED, 2010). These problems are also very common in the Abaya/Chamo catchment area. Especially the low decision power of women to use the existing services has been indicated as a root cause for the many maternal deaths.

The South Ethiopian Rift Valley harbors many infectious diseases contributing to the morbidity and mortality. Poor hygienic practices, poor safe water supply, near absence of environmental sanitation and poor housing are conditions to blame for this. The Ethiopian Government has given attention to reduce the maternal and child mortality. While substantial progress has been made, maternal and child mortality figures are still high (672/100,000, 261 per 1000 live births, respectively).  The maternal and health improvement is the key to the improvement of the health of the population in general. Evidence based and action oriented interventions can be achieved through integration of research and community services. The issue of infectious diseases may link up with the risk of population health and even malnutrition. For instance, a none-  integrated small scale irrigation project designed to resolve the problem of food insecurity, a main cause for malnutrition, may put individuals at risk of malaria and other vector borne diseases. Given the inadequacy of the annual budget of the unit, receiving mostly funds from the university, the additional funding sought through this proposal is crucial to raise the standards of research, teaching and community service in this domain in order to have a clear and positive impact on maternal and child health in the South Ethiopian Rift Valley. Therefore, this research-oriented multidisciplinary project will generate the required evidence to feed policies towards improved health development of the mothers and children in particular and the society at large.

There have been many efforts from the government and non-governmental organizations to avert the poor health status of the population in the project area. However, most of the efforts lacked integration of the different research outcomes with the development problems of the community. Since this project is community based and focused on the real problems of the community with their full participation, as a result all the designed interventions will be acceptable and sustainable. Through the implementation of the project, there will be improvements in health status of the society. Women will be empowered to make decisions about their fertility, utilization of the services available for them with appropriate care giving practices of the health care institutions.  Due to these activities maternal and child health will be improved. Improving the maternal, infant and child nutrition will have a significant impact on the future development of the nation. Appropriate nutrition for the mothers, infant and child will alleviate the  intergenerational malnutrition, reduce the morbidity and mortality related to it. Through outreach of research recommendations, research-based policies will engender different interventions contributing to the reduction of child morbidity.

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