History of Yirga Alem Hospital in Southern Ethiopia

Lindtjørn B. The role of a mission organization in building a sustainable government hospital in Southern Ethiopia. Christian Journal for Global Health.7(2):133-46.

This study details the intriguing history of Yirga Alem Hospital in Southern Ethiopia under the aegis of the Norwegian Lutheran Mission since the middle of the last century.

In 1950, the Norwegian Lutheran Mission (NLM) began holistic mission work, including health work in Yirga Alem in Sidama in Southern Ethiopia. The hospital, which had served as a military hospital during the Italian war (1936-41), became a mission hospital. This paper presents some historical developments of a government hospital managed by a mission organization, the story of its medical work, and how the NLM functioned under varying political regimes and societal environments in Southern Ethiopia. At the same time, societal changes occurring in Norway with the weakening of mission organizations and the Norwegian governments policy that influenced external financial support for the hospital are presented and discussed. The key message of the paper is that it is possible under challenging external politics for a mission organization to collaborate with government entities even with difficult regimes. In the area of Yirga Alem Hospital, this was done without compromising the basics of mission, but rather readjusting comparative strategies while ensuring sustainability and local ownership. The uniqueness of this work is that it explores a mission, i.e., the NLM, which developed health work within the context of a nationally owned health service. Moreover, this fruitful collaboration persists until this day and previous missionaries still work to strengthen public health programs that target such major areas as tuberculosis and HIV control, maternal health, childcare, and nutrition.

The paper can be downloaded here: http://bernt.w.uib.no/files/2020/07/351-Article-Text-5479-3-10-20200628.pdf

New article: Few pregnant women seek health care in Gedeo in southern Ethiopia

Borde MT, Loha E, Johansson KA, Lindtjorn B (2019) Utilisation of health services fails to meet the needs of pregnancy-related illnesses in rural southern Ethiopia: A prospective cohort study. PLoS ONE 14(12): e0215195. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0215195

Although maternal survival has improved in the last decades, evidence on illnesses and the use of health services during pregnancy remains scarce. Therefore, we aimed to assess the incidence and risk factors for illnesses among pregnant women and measure the use of health services. A prospective cohort study was conducted in three kebeles in rural southern Ethiopia among 794 pregnant women from May 2017 to July 2018. Each woman was followed every two weeks at home. Poisson and survival regression models were used for analysis. The incidence rate of episodes of illnesses was 93 per 100 pregnant-woman-weeks (95%CI: 90.6, 94.2), with an average of eight episodes of illnesses per woman. Anaemia accounted for 22% (177 of 794 women), and hypertension 3% (21 women of 794 women). However, utilization of health services for any illness episodes was only 8% (95%CI: 7.6%, 8.9%). The main reasons for not using health services were that the women thought the illness would heal by itself, women thought the illness was not serious, women could not afford to visit the health institutions, or women lacked confidence in the health institutions. The risk factors for illnesses are having many previous pregnancies in life time (ARR = 1.42; 95%CI = 1.02, 1.96), having history of stillbirth (ARR = 1.30; 95%CI = 1.03, 1.64), having history of abortion (AHR = 1.06; 95%CI = 1.02, 1.11), and walking more than 60 minutes to access the nearest hospital (AHR = 1.08; 95%CI = 1.03, 1.14). The risk factors for low use of health services are also having history of abortion (AHR = 2.50; 95%CI = 1.00, 6.01) and walking more than 60 minutes to access the nearest hospital (AHR = 1.91; 95%CI = 1.00, 3.63). Rural Ethiopian pregnant women experience a high burden of illness during pregnancy. Unfortunately, very few of these women utilize health services.

Low immunization coverage in Wonago district, southern Ethiopia: A community-based cross-sectional study

Hailu S, Astatkie A, Johansson KA, Lindtjørn B (2019) Low immunization coverage in Wonago district, southern Ethiopia: A community-based cross-sectional study. PLoS ONE 14(7): e0220144. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0220144

Introduction  Immunization is a cost-effective intervention that prevented more than 5 million deaths worldwide from 2010 to 2015. Despite increased vaccination coverage over the past four decades in many African countries, including Ethiopia, universal coverage has not yet been reached. Only 39% of children aged 12–23 months received full vaccinations in Ethiopia, according to the 2016 Ethiopian Demographic Health Survey. This study aimed to evaluate immunization coverage and identify individual and community factors that explain incomplete vaccination coverage among children aged 6–36 months in the Wonago district of southern Ethiopia.

Methods  We conducted a community-based, cross-sectional study in three randomly selected kebeles in the Wonago district from June to July 2017. Our nested sample of 1,116 children aged 6–36 months included 923 child-mother pairs (level 1) within kebeles (level 2). We conducted multilevel regression analysis using STATA software.

Results  Among participants, 85.0% of children aged 12–36 months received at least one vaccine, and 52.4% had complete immunization coverage. After controlling for several individual and community variables, we identified six significant predictor variables for complete immunization: Older mothers’ age (AOR = 1.05, 95% CI: 1.00–1.09), higher utilization of antenatal care (AOR = 1.36, 95% CI: 1.14–1.62), one or more tetanus-toxoid vaccination during pregnancy (AOR = 2.64, 95% CI: 1.43–4.86), mothers knowing the age at which to complete child’s vaccinations (AOR = 2.00, 95% CI: 1.25–3.20), being a female (AOR = 0.64, 95% CI: 0.43–0.95), and child receiving vitamin A supplementation within the last 6 months (AOR = 2.79, 95% CI: 1.59–4.90). We observed a clustering effect at the individual and community levels with an intra-cluster correlation coefficient of 48.1%.

Conclusions  We found low immunization coverage among children in the Wonago district of southern Ethiopia, with significant differences across communities. Promoting maternal health care and community service could enhance immunization coverage.

Reducing stillbirths in Ethiopia

Lindtjorn B, Mitike D, Zidda Z, Yaya Y. Reducing stillbirths in Ethiopia: Results of an intervention programme. PLoS One. 2018;13(5):e0197708. Epub 2018/05/31. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0197708. PubMed PMID: 29847607.

Previous studies from South Ethiopia have shown that interventions that focus on intrapartum care substantially reduce maternal mortality and there is a need to operationalize health packages that could reduce stillbirths. The aim of this paper is to evaluate if a programme that aimed to improve maternal health, and mainly focusing on strengthening intrapartum care, also would reduce the number of stillbirths, and to estimate if there are other indicators that explains high stillbirth rates. Our study used a “continuum of care” approach and focussed on providing essential antenatal and obstetric services in communities through health extension workers, at antenatal and health facility services. In this follow up study, which includes the same 38.312 births registered by community health workers, shows that interventions focusing on improved intrapartum care can also reduce stillbirths (by 46%; from 14.5 to 7.8 per 1000 births). Other risk factors for stillbirths are mainly related to complications during delivery and illnesses during pregnancy. We show that focusing on Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric Care and antenatal services reduces stillbirths. However, the study also underlines that illnesses during pregnancy and complications during delivery still represent the main risk factors for stillbirths. This indicates that obstetric care need still to be strengthened, should include the continuum of care from home to the health facility, make care accessible to all, and reduce delays.


Smallpox and eliminating other diseases

 Dr. Donald A. Henderson, who led the World Health Organization’s war on smallpox, administering a smallpox vaccination in Ethiopia, around 1972. The last known case was in 1977. (Photo WHO)



Dr. Donald A. Henderson was an American physician who coordinated the World Health Organisation’s efforts to eradicate smallpox. After smallpox had been declared eradicated in 1980, he returned to the US, and became the Dean of what is now the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Donald A. Henderson died this month and will be remembered as a great scientist and public health physician.

As a child in late 1950s I remember a smallpox epidemic in Dilla in Ethiopia. I was so fortunate to have met this remarkable man, and listen to a talk he had at WHO in Geneva. Because of the success in eradicating smallpox, many believe that it also should be possible to eliminate other diseases such as poliomyelitis, Guinea worm, measles, or even malaria. I find it interesting to read that Dr Henderson was rather skeptical about these new eradication initiatives. Both the characteristics of the diseases, as well as the efforts put into getting rid of the diseases differed from what was the strategy to eradicate smallpox.

Tuberculosis in South Ethiopia

Mesay-Paper 1Dangisso MH, Datiko DG, Lindtjørn B (2014) Trends of Tuberculosis Case Notification and Treatment Outcomes in the Sidama Zone, Southern Ethiopia: Ten-Year Retrospective Trend Analysis in Urban-Rural Settings. PLoS ONE 9(12): e114225. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0114225

Background: Ethiopia is one of the high tuberculosis (TB) burden countries. An analysis of trends and differentials in case notifications and treatment outcomes of TB may help improve our understanding of the performance of TB control services. Methods: A retrospective trend analysis of TB cases was conducted in the Sidama Zone in southern Ethiopia. We registered all TB cases diagnosed and treated during 2003–2012 from all health facilities in the Sidama Zone, and analysed trends of TB case notification rates and treatment outcomes.

Results: The smear positive (PTB+) case notification rate (CNR) increased from 55 (95% CI 52.5–58.4) to 111 (95% CI 107.4–114.4) per 105 people. The CNRs of PTB+ in people older than 45 years increased by fourfold, while the mortality of cases during treatment declined from 11% to 3% for smear negative (PTB-) (X2 , trend P,0.001) and from 5% to 2% for PTB+ (X2trend, P,0.001). The treatment success was higher in rural areas (AOR 1.11; CI 95%: 1.03–1.2), less for PTB- (AOR 0.86; CI 95%: 0.80–0.92) and higher for extra-pulmonary TB (AOR 1.10; CI 95%: 1.02– 1.19) compared to PTB+. A higher lost-to-follow up was observed in men (AOR 1.15; CI 95%: 1.06–1.24) and among PTB- cases (AOR 1.14; CI 95%: 1.03–1.25). More deaths occurred in PTB-cases (AOR 1.65; 95% CI: 1.44–1.90) and among cases older than 65 years (AOR 3.86; CI 95%: 2.94–5.10). Lastly, retreatment cases had a higher mortality than new cases (6% vs 3%).

Conclusion: Over the past decade TB CNRs and treatment outcomes improved, whereas the disparities of disease burden by gender and place of residence reduced and mortality declined. Strategies should be devised to address higher risk groups for poor treatment outcomes.

HIV among children in Ethiopia

Westerlund E, Jerene D, Mulissa Z, Hallström I and Lindtjørn B. Pre-ART retention in care and prevalence of tuberculosis among HIV-infected children at a district hospital in southern Ethiopia. BMC Pediatrics 2014, 14:250


Background  The Ethiopian epidemic is currently on the wane. However, the situation for infected children is in some ways lagging behind due to low treatment coverage and deficient prevention of mother-to-child transmission. Too few studies have examined HIV infected children presenting to care in low-income countries in general. Considering the presence of local variations in the nature of the epidemic a study in Ethiopia could be of special value for the continuing fight against HIV. The aim of this study is to describe the main characteristics of children with HIV presenting to care at a district hospital in a resource-limited area in southern Ethiopia. The aim was also to analyse factors affecting pre-ART loss to follow-up, time to ART-initiation and disease stage upon presentation.

Methods  This was a prospective cohort study. The data analysed were collected in 2009 for the period January 2003 through December 2008 at Arba Minch Hospital and additional data on the ART-need in the region were obtained from official reports.

Results   The pre-ART loss to follow-up rate was 29.7%. Older children (10-14 years) presented in a later stage of their disease than younger children (76.9% vs. 45.0% in 0-4 year olds, chi-square test, chi2 = 8.8, P = 0.01). Older girls presented later than boys (100.0% vs. 57.1%, Fisher’s exact test, P = 0.02). Children aged 0-4 years were more likely to be lost to follow-up (40.0 vs. 21.8%, chi-square test, chi2 = 5.4, P = 0.02) and had a longer time to initiate ART (Cox regression analysis, HR: 0.50, 95% CI: 0.25-0.97, P = 0.04, controlling for sex, place of residence, enrolment phase and WHO clinical stage upon presentation). Neither sex was overrepresented in the sample. Tuberculosis prevalence upon presentation and previous history of tubercolosis were 14.5% and 8% respectively.

Conclusions  The loss to follow-up is alarmingly high and children present too late. Further research is needed to explore specific causes and possible solutions.

Update: RMM projects in south-west Ethiopia

The aim of the RMM (Reducing Maternal Mortality) programme in Saggen, Gamo Gofa Zone and in Basketto is to reduce maternal and neonatal deaths.

RMM-institutionsDuring the first phase (2008 – 2011), we worked to set up and strengthen institutions doing Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric care (CEmOC). Arba Minch Hospital was the training centre, Saula Hospital and Chencha Hospital, and Kemba, Basketto and Melo Health Centres started to do caesarean sections through support by our project. All these institutions are now regularly doing caesarean.

The challenge we noted during the first phase was that large populations living in our target areas still have limited access to delivery services.

During the second phase (2012 – 2016) we aim to increase the coverage of Basic and Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric Care. Our aim is to improve the access to delivery services. We do this by strengthening health centres to do Basic Emergency Obstetric Care. We also link the work at these health centres to health posts in the kebeles, and to improve referrals to institutions doing caesarean sections.

During the last year the number of institutions doing Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric care (CEmOC) has increased by four; in Bonke woreda (Gezzeso), in Beto and in Selam Berr (Kucha), and in Kolme and in Gawada.. The map shows the institutions doing CEmOC on the area. So, The number of institutions doing comprehensive emergency care is now about one institution per 250.000 people, a great improvement since 2007 when the figure was one institution per 2.5 million people.

We also collaborate with the Midwife School in Arba Minch, and currently they are evaluating how well the midwives that graduated from their school are performing (See Master thesis by Rahel Tesfaye). This will give us essential information on how to improve the quality of midwife training, and thus of RMM work.

To monitor this work and see if the project meets its societal objectives (reduced death rates), we register births and maternal deaths in four woredas with a population of about 600.000. In a recent research we have shown that it is possible to achieve high coverage community birth registration in rural Ethiopia. Such registration can be an important tool to monitor births and birth outcomes such as maternal mortality in resource-limited settings (Yaliso et al 2014, PLoSONE in press).  Our results (unpublished) show that maternal deaths have since 2008 been reduced by 2/3. The institutional delivery rates have also increased substantially, and the use of traditional birth attendants is decreasing. We also see some early signs of decreasing neonatal deaths. In some areas the institutional delivery rates approach 60%.

Even if our results are encouraging, many challenges remain. The birth registration shows that highest maternal deaths rates are among women who live in remote areas, and among women who report illness during pregnancy. One study show that children born to poor women have higher death rates compared with richer families. So, in the coming years will focus on improved quality of care, particularly focusing on improving access, and on managing illness during pregnancy. We will also try to develop tools to identify the poor that are in need of special attention.


Yaya Y, Data T, and Lindtjørn B. Maternal mortality in rural south Ethiopia: Feasibility of community-based birth registration by Health Extension Workers.  (Manuscript submitted 2014).

Yaya Y, Eide KT, Norheim OF, Lindtjørn B (2014) Maternal and Neonatal Mortality in South-West Ethiopia: Estimates and Socio-Economic Inequality.PLoS ONE 9(4): e96294. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0096294

Girma M, Yaya Y, Gebrehanna E, Berhane Y, Lindtjørn B. (2013). Lifesaving emergency obstetric services are inadequate in south-west Ethiopia: a formidable challenge to reducing maternal mortality in Ethiopia. BMC Health Services Research 2013; 13(1):459.

Yaya Y, Lindtjørn B (2012). High maternal mortality in rural south-west Ethiopia: estimate by using the sisterhood method. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2012; 12: 136.

Rahel Tesfaye. Client Satisfaction with Delivery Care Services and Associated Factors in the Public Health Facility of Gamo Gofa Zone, South West Ethiopia. 2014. Arba Minch University and Addis Continental Institute of Public Health.

For complete list of publications from this project click here.

Maternal and Neonatal Mortality in South-West Ethiopia

Yaya Y, Eide KT, Norheim OF, Lindtjørn B (2014) Maternal and Neonatal Mortality in South-West Ethiopia: Estimates and Socio-Economic Inequality. PLoS ONE 9(4): e96294. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0096294

Introduction  Ethiopia has achieved the fourth Millennium Development Goal by reducing under 5 mortality. Nevertheless, there are challenges in reducing maternal and neonatal mortality. The aim of this study was to estimate maternal and neonatal mortality and the socio-economic inequalities of these mortalities in rural south-west Ethiopia.

Methods  We visited and enumerated all households but collected data from those that reported pregnancy and birth outcomes in the last five years in 15 of the 30 rural kebeles in Bonke woreda, Gamo Gofa, south-west Ethiopia. The primary outcomes were maternal and neonatal mortality and a secondary outcome was the rate of institutional delivery.

Results  We found 11,762 births in 6572 households; 11,536 live and 226 stillbirths. There were 49 maternal deaths; yielding a maternal mortality ratio of 425 per 100,000 live births (95% CI:318–556). The poorest households had greater MMR compared to richest (550 vs 239 per 100,000 live births). However, the socio-economic factors examined did not have statistically significant association with maternal mortality. There were 308 neonatal deaths; resulting in a neonatal mortality ratio of 27 per 1000 live births (95% CI: 24–30). Neonatal mortality was greater in households in the poorest quartile compared to the richest; adjusted OR (AOR): 2.62 (95% CI: 1.65–4.15), headed by illiterates compared to better educated; AOR: 3.54 (95% CI: 1.11–11.30), far from road (≥6 km) compared to within 5 km; AOR: 2.40 (95% CI: 1.56–3.69), that had three or more births in five years compared to two or less; AOR: 3.22 (95% CI: 2.45–4.22). Households with maternal mortality had an increased risk of stillbirths; OR: 11.6 (95% CI: 6.00–22.7), and neonatal deaths; OR: 7.2 (95% CI: 3.6–14.3). Institutional delivery was only 3.7%.

Conclusion  High mortality with socio-economic inequality and low institutional delivery highlight the importance of strengthening obstetric interventions in rural south-west Ethiopia.

Improving tuberculosis control in Ethiopia


Ethiopia, with over 80 million people, is heavily affected by tuberculosis, complicated by poverty and HIV infection, limited access to the health service and shortage of health workers.

We recently reviewed tuberculosis control programme in South Ethiopia. Although treatment success rates have improved during the last decade, low case notification rate, mainly because of inability to access the health service, remains a challenge.

Using community health workers, we enrolled health extension workers (HEWs) in providing health education, sputum collection and providing treatment. This improved case detection, and more significantly for women, because the community-based sputum collection increased access to the diagnostic services. Similarly, community-based treatment improved the treatment success of smear-positive patients (90%) compared with to health facility-based treatment (83%). This approach also reduced the total costs by 63%. Thus, such interventions are economically attractive to the health service and patients, caregivers and the community.

Community based intervention improve access for the poor and for women to have better access to the health service. It is effective and an economically attractive alternative to the traditional health services.

By improving health service delivery to the affected community living in high burden countries, this is an example of how operational research in developing countries provide evidence for  policy change. Recently, this approach was endorsed by the Ministry of Health Ethiopia. Health Extension Workers shall now be involved in tuberculosis control in Ethiopia.

This research has been carried out by Daniel Gemechu Datiko. This week he defends his PhD at the University of Bergen. You can read his thesis at: Improving Tuberculosis Control in Ethiopia: Performance of TB control programme, community DOTS and its cost-effectiveness.

The two most important papers in his thesis are:

Datiko, D., & Lindtjørn, B. (2009). Health Extension Workers Improve Tuberculosis Case Detection and Treatment Success in Southern Ethiopia: A Community Randomized Trial PLoS ONE, 4 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005443

Datiko, D., & Lindtjørn, B. (2010). Cost and Cost-Effectiveness of Treating Smear-Positive Tuberculosis by Health Extension Workers in Ethiopia: An Ancillary Cost-Effectiveness Analysis of Community Randomized Trial PLoS ONE, 5 (2) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009158