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April 11, 2011

Armies and Model Families: Ethiopia’s vision for better health

  Minister Tedros

It was a meeting only a global health junkie would love. But the informal talk after the meeting? That had me taking notes.

Every week, Ethiopia's Federal Ministry of Health brings together its top managers to discuss key health issues facing the 600-person central organization. This week, the agenda looked promising: an overview of something called the Health Transformation Army.

I was allowed to sit in on the Health Ministry's internal meeting as part of a reporting trip sponsored by the Ministerial Leadership Initiative for Global Health (MLI), a program of Aspen Global Health and Development. MLI works in five countries, including Ethiopia, supporting country ownership of health programs.

At the head of a long table sat one of the most recognizable leaders in global health: Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is chair of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and who last month received the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Humanitarian Award. Tedros opened the meeting with a brief message and then mostly listened for the next two-and-a-half hours, allowing his managers to discuss this so-called army in the making.

During a numbingly detailed discussion, it emerged eventually that Ethiopia wants to expand its successful health extension worker program deeper into communities, drilling all the way down to families. It is now working on a plan in which it will train people in communities to each encourage five families to embrace healthier lifestyles, including seeking out preventive care such as routine immunizations. Over time, each family would have a member of the "army," whose goal would be to improve the health of all family members.

The Ministry is a long ways from launching this plan, and the meeting focused on how it would build a system of evaluation on the army's performance. One Ministry member even talked about what it would take for an army member to earn an A, B, or C grade. Others discussed how to put together a self-assessment form for army members that would yield telling results.

To read more of Donnelly's blog post, please see The Global Health Council's orginal article.