UM gets anonymous $25M grant to curb maternal deaths in Ethiopia

Dr. Senait Fisseha at St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 

Women’s health continues to be a burgeoning issue Ethiopia, where the maternal mortality ratio is 420 for every 100,000 births – among the highest in the world.

That compares to the United State’s maternal mortality ratio of 28 per 100,000, the United Kingdom’s eight per 100,000, just three per 100,000 in Norway.

The University of Michigan is hoping to curb that rising maternal mortality issue with the help of an anonymous $25 million grant the university announced Wednesday.

With the grant, U-M will begin training doctors in Africa in reproductive health services, many of which aren’t widely available to many women living in remote areas of the continent.

The grant will allow faculty at the U-M Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology to create a center for reproductive health training. The goal of the center is to increase the number of health professionals equipped to provide life-saving reproductive health care, especially to women whose families are poor.

“Every day, women across the globe are dying and suffering from poor health outcomes because they don’t have access to high quality, comprehensive reproductive health care,” Dr. Senait Fisseha, the center’s director, said in a news release.

Fisseha, who was born in Ethiopia, is a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at the U-M Health System. She was honored with Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health’s highest award in 2013 for her contributions to the country’s health sector.

“We are overwhelmingly grateful for this extraordinary grant that allows us to build on our strong foundation of global reproductive health programs and continue to pursue a longtime dream to provide all women a full scope of high quality reproductive health care when and where they need it,” she added.

U-M’s new Center for International Reproductive Health Training will coordinate pre-service training to incoming doctors, nurses and midwives with a focus on comprehensive family planning services as well as timing and spacing of pregnancies for safe deliveries.

The first phase of the project will allow U-M to build on its already-established partnership with St. Paul Hospital Millennium Medical College in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia by expanding 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.

“Good reproductive health services are essential for healthier women and mothers,” says Fisseha. “And healthier mothers have healthier children and families,” she adds.

According to the World Health Organization, reproductive health issues are a leading cause of poor health and death of women of childbearing age globally.

Unintended pregnancies among Ethiopian women are linked to a higher average of deaths and disability among women.

“Our center will help empower women to make their own decisions about their own reproductive health, thereby choosing whether and when to start a family,” she added.

“Our ultimate goal is to help train future generations of capable and competent health care providers in many parts of Africa and South Asia who can deliver comprehensive reproductive health services, and also be advocates for the safest and best health care possible at every stage of a woman’s life.”

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