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Global Leaders in Maternal and Newborn Health: Dr. Eshetu Bekele Yimenu (Ethiopia)

By: Kayla McGowan, Project Coordinator, Women and Health Initiative, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

ESHETU BEKELE YIMENUIn July 2016, global leaders gathered for the second annual Safe Mothers and Newborns Leadership Workshop (SMNLW) hosted by the Maternal Health Task Force (MHTF) in partnership with the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and The Aga Kahn University and sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The participants represented 26 countries from five continents.

SMNLW participant Dr. Eshetu Bekele Yimenu is a young leader working at Save the Children International as Director of Research and Uptake leading the Research, Child Rights Governance and Campaigns Department in Ethiopia. He has more than 20 years of progressive professional experience and expertise with a career spanning non-governmental organizations (both national and international), government organizations, think tanks, United Nations organizations and academia. Eshetu is an expert in research, project planning, implementation and monitoring and evaluation with special expertise in teaching and capacity building, human rights, leadership, social accountability and research, advocacy and governance issues.

K: Tell me about yourself and the work that you do.

E: I’m from Ethiopia, and I work for Save the Children as the Director of Research, Child Rights Governance and Campaigns for Save the Children’s work in Ethiopia. With regard to maternal and newborn child health, my key area is creating awareness and capacity building for campaigns on improving maternal, newborn, adolescent and child health. One of the key objectives of our Every Last Child Campaign is improving reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health (RMNCAH). The idea is to reach children, women and adolescents in remote and disadvantaged areas of the country, to reach those that are most deprived and left behind. We are organizing a number of capacity building and awareness raising events with a range of stakeholders at the federal, regional and local levels. We include many of stakeholders, like the community, government, women’s groups, children groups, academia, experts, etc. We are also building the capacity of the Ministry of Health and offices at different hierarchies of the government to enable them to properly address issues of maternal, newborn and child health. Part of this involves advocacy at the policy and lower levels to make child-friendly policies, particularly to invest in women and children’s health and essential services in the marginalized, deprived, left-behind areas of the country. We also work for equal treatment and accountability in fulfilling the wellbeing of children across the country.

K: What is the biggest challenge in maternal newborn health? What is being done to address that challenge?

E: There are two key challenges. One is lack of adequate financing from the supply side (from the service providers and government side) and the second problem is cultural awareness and attitude barriers from the demand side. The country is very vast and diverse, with a number of harmful traditional practices and attitudes; for instance, many women prefer to deliver to traditional birth attendants at home, and rates of child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) are still high in some parts of the country. There are also secondary problems, such as lack of adequate financial support to the poor, poor facilities and services in the remote and hard-to-reach areas, etc. Save the Children and other like-minded organizations and civil society groups are making progress by mobilizing awareness and campaigns in addition to the services that they are delivering to reach the kids that are left behind. Although the government is allocating more resources to improve services, quality of delivery and leadership capacity is still low in many places. Globally, there is more attention to maternal, newborn and child health. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) contributed to the improvements and progress; for example, Ethiopia has successfully met MDG 4 and has made progress towards MDG5. The government has fully committed to achieving the SDGs, particularly SDG3, which has to do with maternal, newborn and child health.

K: What does good leadership mean to you?

E: We should all be leaders motivating and inspiring others. I would like to be an inspirational leader and motivate my team and others to work towards reducing child and maternal deaths, stillbirths and all related complications and achieving the SDGs.

K: What do you want MHTF readers to know?

E: I am also a global activist for achieving the SDGs in the entire continent of Africa and the rest of the world and am involved in the global anti-poverty and civil society organization (CSO) movements. We are demanding local government and global leaders to be held accountable, to respond to questions coming from developing countries and to provide support. My message is to build strong solidarity globally, to work together towards reducing poverty and addressing maternal and child health issues in the global South. Secondly, I want to continue advocating with colleagues for the poorer countries mainly in helping them achieve the SDGs and create robust accountability mechanisms. Many of the key challenges in the global development and poverty reduction efforts are related with lack of delivering on the commitments and absence of accountability mechanism. We must thus create strong demand from the community side and responsiveness from the government and donors/international community side.

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