Better Health for Moms and Babies in Ethiopia

Community Health Workers reach remote communities in AfricaImproving access to health care in the remote South Omo region of Ethiopia.

Project timeline: December 2011 to September 2015
Funders: Government of Canada through the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD)
Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Social Justice Fund
Blossom Foundation
Norman and Margaret Jewison Charitable Foundation
McLean Foundation
K.M. Hunter Foundation
Individual Canadians

Situation – Lack of health care in remote region of Ethiopia is a key factor in mother and child deaths.

South Omo, in southern Ethiopia, is home to pastoralist (nomadic) and semi-pastoralist communities. Before Amref Health Africa in Canada's project began, the remote area of South Omo, with nearly 630,000 people, had high rates of maternal, newborn and child deaths. And, a severe shortage of health care services.

  • 73 per cent of women in South Omo gave birth at home without a skilled health attendant.
  • South Omo had only 1 hospital, 12 health centres, 3 doctors and 23 midwives to serve a population about the size Vancouver, Canada.

Action – Increased health care services for moms and babies

Amref Health Africa worked with communities in South Omo to build up the region’s health care services. Activities included:

  • training health care workers in treating pregnancy and childbirth complications, diagnosing and treating common illnesses (TB, malaria, HIV/AIDS);
  • upgrading health centres with life-saving equipment;
  • providing ambulances and a dispatch system;
  • encouraging pregnant women to seek out health care before, during and after delivery; and,
  • working with pregnant women and mothers to improve nutrition.

“One of the most important factors contributing to the high maternal and newborn mortality in South Omo is the low rate of skilled care during pregnancy and delivery. That’s why I decided to work in Ethiopia, a place where I am needed most.” Dr. Brook Asfaw, Ethiopian obstetrician/gynecologist practicing at Jinka hospital in South Omo

Results – Saving the lives of moms and babies

The project made significant gains in health care for moms and babies:

  • 85% of women gave birth with a skilled birth attendant present, compared to 27.3% at the beginning of the project;
  • upgraded the skills of more than 611 health workers (training on malaria, TB, HIV/AIDS, collection of critical health data, delivery, pre- and post-natal care, emergency management, lab technology);
  • provided potentially life-saving antenatal care to 3,272 women;
  • immunized more than 10,000 children against potentially fatal childhood diseases;
  • equipped health centres with essential medical equipment and supplies such as diagnostic instruments;
  • purchased three ambulances and set up a dispatch system; the ambulances responded to 6,390 cases, 4,302 of which were pregnant women in need of medical care;
  • 95.6% of new mothers received post-natal care to meet the standard, up from only 21% before the project started;
  • 60 health facilities now offer growth monitoring for children to help increase their survival to age 5 and beyond; nearly 25,000 children underwent growth monitoring;
  • more than 17,000 children and pregnant women were screened for nutrition-specific health issues and the need for therapeutic food (following training for health workers to identify these issues in patients);
  • 4,618 babies were treated in the “neonatal corners” provided by the project – special areas in labour wards that have life-saving equipment for newborns experiencing health problems;
  • Close to 60 midwives with at least three years of training are now working in the South Omo area, up from 23 before the project started.
  • the obstetrician-gynecologist working at the only hospital in the area  performed more than 500 life-saving caesarean sections; he also trained local health workers in emergency care for pregnant women.



Project at a glance


In the South Omo region, 73% of women gave birth with no medical assistance.


Increased and improved health care services for mothers and their babies.


Life-saving medical equipment provided, including three ambulances.

More than 10,000 children immunized.

25,000 children underwent growth monitoring.

More than 17,000 children and pregnant women screened for nutrition-related health issues, and provided with therapeutic food if needed.

95.6% of mother received post-natal care to meet the standard. 

Kevin O'Neill
Director of Programs

Kevin O'NeillWant to partner with Amref Health Africa in Canada on a health project? Want to know more about our projects? Get in touch with our Director of Programs, Kevin O'Neill.