At an environmental conference center above Addis Ababa, some 160 academics, researchers, students and staff from 23 Ethiopian institutions and the University of Michigan gathered for three days of dialogue and information-sharing. The third annual Ethiopia Michigan Collaborative Consortium meeting included members of the medical, engineering, public health, nursing, art history, informatics and other communities – a wide range of collaboration going back many years.
One of the most important of those is the Center for International Reproductive Health Training (CIRHT), which since 2014 has been working with medical schools across the country developing pre-service family planning training for health care professionals – doctors and midwives – to help reduce maternal mortality and morbidity.
The partnership has deep roots. Dr. Senait Fisseha first began her work at St. Paul’s Hospital and Millennial Medical College in 2011. The focus was to decrease the high maternal mortality rate due to unsafe abortion in Ethiopia by integrating pre-service training on comprehensive reproductive health into the medical school curriculum. At that time, Dr. Tedros Adhanom was the country’s health minister. He implementing capacity-building for equity in health care access, overseeing the training and deployment of 38,000 health extension workers, “with women at the core,” and the expansion of medical education – from three medical schools with 120 annual graduates to 33 medical schools with 3,000 graduates across the country.
The impact of Dr. Tedros’s work inspired Dr. Senait to incorporate those same values in CIRHT’s mission of improving family planning training for medical students. They both also understood the connection between family planning and economic empowerment for the families in Ethiopia.
As a result of her initial work in Ethiopia the Federal Ministry of Health rewarded her efforts by awarding her its highest health sector award in 2013.
With their common vision, Dr. Senait introduced Dr. Tedros to key leaders at the University of Michigan, which laid the foundation of greater partnership between U-M and universities and medical schools throughout Ethiopia though CIRHT, founded in 2014. Dr. Senait’s imperative was to turn that personal relationship into an institutional relationship that would last into the future. And she was practical. “How can we form a partnership that can actually solve society’s problems?”
To date, CIRHT has partnered with ten of the schools encompassing 11 teaching hospitals in Ethiopia, which have trained hundreds of faculty, students, residents and soon, fellows, creating tools and capacity, and adhering to research- and evidence-based health practice, all signatures of Dr. Tedros’s tenure and Dr. Senait’s vision.
So it was only logical that their partnership in Ethiopia should lead to the global stage. When Dr. Tedros announced his candidacy to be director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Senait was his strategic and most trusted advisor who helped him navigate the complex landscape and chaired his campaign. In fact, Dr. Tedros often speaks on how Dr. Senait was the one pushed him to enter the race to become the WHO Director general.
On May 23, when Dr. Tedros walked into the Assembly Hall at the Geneva Palais des Nations as the World Health Organization’s newly-elected director-general, Dr. Senait was at his side. Following the cheers and a standing ovation, outgoing WHO D-G Margaret Chan took to the floor to embrace Dr. Tedros. Her second hug was for Dr. Senait. Then, the following day, at a victory celebration at the Intercontinental Hotel, it was Dr. Tedros’ turn. In front of an audience of more than 100, he praised Dr. Senait for her tireless work and her unconditional support that culminated in his election.
“There was an excitement around his candidacy, beyond his potential to be the first African to head to WHO,” said Dr. Senait. “People everywhere understood his record of accomplishment, and also his dedication, his skill, and his heart.” They felt that passion when they attended the “Women Deliver” reproductive health conference in Copenhagen, or when they underscored the relationship between the environment and public health at the COP22 climate summit in Marrakesh.
On July 1st, Dr. Tedros took over the reins of the WHO to put his vision into action on a global scale. And Dr. Senait remains committed to CIRHT’s vision. “CIRHT will continue to do its part to expand capacity and reduce inequity, always with women’s health at the core.”
CIRHT Managing Director Janet Hall, who attended the WHO assembly in Geneva, felt the excitement and appreciated the scale of the collaboration. “We are very proud of the outstanding work Dr. Senait did as the director of Dr. Tedros’ successful campaign. She not only represented Dr. Tedros well with her outstanding leadership during the campaign, and at the same time represented the University of Michigan well throughout the world”.