Since leaving Ethiopia as a teenager to pursue medical school in the U.S., University of Michigan reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist Dr. Senait Fisseha has dreamed of returning to the country she grew up in to make a difference in women’s health.
Today, the first phase of that dream becomes a reality as the new Center for International Reproductive Health Training (CIRHT) – led by Dr. Fisseha – begins its comprehensive reproductive health training program for students at eight Ethiopian medical schools.
During a ceremony in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa on Friday, CIRHT and the Ethiopian Ministry of Health officially announced the start of the program and the goal to reduce the alarmingly high number of maternal deaths in the country.
“Today, our center begins its new role in the developing world as we work with our partners in Ethiopia to ensure that incoming doctors, midwives and other health professionals are equipped to provide comprehensive reproductive health care that will save women’s lives,” says Fisseha, M.D., J.D.
“Too many women are dying strictly because they have poor access to the high-quality care they need. We share a vision with our Ethiopian health partners that no woman should have to suffer poor health outcomes because of where she lives.”
CIRHT was made possible by a $25 million grant from an anonymous donor to the U-M Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology last year. The center will help train health professionals in critical, life-saving reproductive health services not generally accessible to many women in low income countries by integrating comprehensive family planning into medical education.
The first phase of the project will allow U-M to build on its strong partnership with St. Paul Hospital Millennium Medical College in Addis Ababa by expanding comprehensive pre-service reproductive health training to seven other medical schools throughout the country. This partnership was jump-started by Fisseha in 2012 to integrate family planning training into medical education.
The initiative builds on the ongoing partnership between the University of Michigan and the Ethiopian Ministry of Health.
“We are creating a deep, sustaining collaboration between Ethiopia and Michigan that will improve women’s health in our country,” says Dr. Mengistu Hailemariam, an Ethiopian physician and CIRHT program manager.
“Together, we are providing health professionals in the country with the resources and expertise to provide women with the care they need throughout their entire cycle of life.”
Globally, reproductive health issues are a leading cause of poor health and death of women of childbearing age. Women in developing countries suffer disproportionately from reproductive health issues, including unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, maternal death and disability and sexually transmitted infections.
Women’s health continues to be a particularly urgent health issue in Ethiopia where the maternal mortality ratio is 420 for every 100,000 births, among the highest in the world. That compares to a maternal mortality ratio of 28 per 100,000 in the U.S., 8 per 100,000 in the U.K. and 3 per 100,000 in Norway.