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Learning from joint research: Maternal, newborn and child health in Ethiopia

published 14 November 2019

Maternal and child health coverage indicators in Ethiopia continue to improve, whilst newborn care and survival stagnate and issues of quality of care, equity and use of data for decision-making, require further attention.

These are just some of the results discussed during a joint MNCH learning conference held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on the 7th of November. Approximately 100 researchers, including the IDEAS project team, government officials, development partners and implementers met at the conference, co-organised by the Federal Ministry of Health, the Ethiopian Public Health Institute and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Participants at the MNCH Learning Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Ethiopian Public Health Institute Director General, Dr Ebba Abate, welcomed the strong existing research collaborations between Ethiopia and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and highlighted the importance of reviewing data and knowledge during the conference to support health policies and practice in the country. “The conference acts as a platform to bring together research and practice, and make research work for policy and practice.”

LSHTM Deputy Director, Professor Anne Mills remarked on the wide scope of LSHTM-led research undertaken in the country, which aims to address not just the major causes of ill health and disability, but also how these can be prevented and treated through improved services and systems.

Preliminary results from a ‘Mini’ Demographic and Health Survey presented showed and impressive threefold increase in the number of women receiving antenatal care from a skilled provider since 2005 with similar results in the number of women delivering at a health facility. The data did, however reveal significant geographical and wealth disparities, as well as the stagnating levels of neonatal mortality.

Delegates at the MNCH learning conference during a presentation.

It proved to be especially interesting to hear findings from the IDEAS-led evaluation of the Community Based Newborn Care programme, as well as the Dagu-led evaluation of the Optimizing the Health Extension Worker programme, in addition to the Mini DHS results to provide an even more comprehensive picture of the current status of maternal, newborn and child health in Ethiopia, but also highlighting some issues which require further investigation.

Sessions at the conference were dedicated to four broad themes including: Towards Universal Health Coverage, Quality of Care, Data for Health Planning and Mutual Learning for Change. Presenters included researchers, policy makers, planners, analysts and research students from the Ethiopian health system, the Ethiopian Public Health Institute, Universities, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and other partners. The sessions offered an opportunity to compare findings from a number of quantitative and qualitative studies focusing on Ethiopia, as well as studies from another IDEAS priority country – Nigeria.

Two LSHTM-led projects in Ethiopia with a particular focus on capacity building within universities and government institutions received special attention during the conference. The Dagu project, which combines the evaluation of a health extension programme with the support to Ethiopian PhD students was seen as exemplary, as funding for PhD research can be rare. The ORCA project is especially highly regarded due to its importance for sustainability. It works directly with Ethiopian analysts, employed in government institutions, to strengthen their analytical capacities and improve data analysis and use for health decision making and planning.

Following the conference partners and LSHTM alumni took the opportunity to further network at an alumni and partner reception.