South Ethiopia Network of Universities in Public Health II (SENUPH II)

The SENUPH II project represents a network of three universities in southern Ethiopia as well as the University of Bergen. The focus is on public health. Based on history of 20-year collaboration, we aim to strengthen the existing collaboration so to enhance efforts to improve capacity building, research, building independent senior researchers, and collaborate with the Ministry of Health with the relevant health information to improve the health of peoples in southern Ethiopia.

Project’s particular importance

Even if there has been a substantial economic growth in Ethiopia, the country remains among the 20 poorest countries. The population is in a transition with declining fertility, increasing life expectancy, heavy burdens of poverty-related diseases and increasing load of non-communicable diseases. Thus, the country needs evidence-based healthcare to improve health policy and improve the health of the population.

This project focuses on health challenges and priority setting. We believe universities in southern Ethiopia, can produce relevant information for policymakers to enhance public health work. By focusing on infectious diseases, malnutrition and the emerging burden of non-communicable diseases, we aim to build capacity in higher education both at universities and at the Ministry of health.

By the end of the project and through building strong research groups, we expect to have nine independent researchers capable of research leadership, supervising future PhD students, mentoring post docs, that further can develop their institutions when this project ends. Furthermore, we expect to have strengthened two PhD programs that would be sustainable in an Ethiopian context.

Building on a previous joint PhD degree programme between Hawassa University and the University of Bergen, and strengthening research at Dilla and Arba Minch University, we plan through PhD and post doc research, linked to training at the master’s level, strengthen the ownership, capability, and sustainability of the universities and of the Ministry of health to carry out evidence-based healthcare. The teaching, research, and implementation work will be interdisciplinary and integrated and involve disciplines such as epidemiology, medicine, priority setting and health economics, household economy, essential laboratory disciplines for emerging and existing epidemics.

Project goals

Through this six-year project, we aim to strengthen the institutional capacity for teaching, supervision and research by developing teams of researchers consisting of both senior (post docs) and junior researchers (PhD students and PhD holders) and thereby obtaining a critical mass needed for future sustainability of the institution. This will also focus on enhancing leadership capability of researchers so that they become independent researchers.

We shall strengthen research groups on thematic areas such as communicable diseases (malaria, emerging and re-emerging infections, and tuberculosis), nutrition, and priority setting on non-communicable diseases and health economics.

Relevant SDGs in the project

This project will deal with several of the sustainable development goals. The main goal is good health and well-being (SDG3). However, a large proportion of the efforts will be to reduce hunger in an area where chronic malnutrition is highly prevalent (SDG2). Our program will be based on quality teaching (DG4), and gender equality (SDG5).

Partner institutions

In Ethiopia, Hawassa University, Arba Minch University, and Dilla University, and the University of Bergen

New and important research from Arba Minch University

Arba Minch University has recently published three important papers. This work comes from the resaearch group on malaria and leishmaniasis. You will find the references with links to fulltext papers below:

Mekuriaw W, Balkew M, Messenger LA, Yewhalaw D, Woyessa A, Massebo F. The effect of ivermectin® on fertility, fecundity and mortality of Anopheles arabiensis fed on treated men in Ethiopia. Malaria Journal. 2019;18(1).

Pareyn M, Van den Bosch E, Girma N, van Houtte N, Van Dongen S, Van der Auwera G, et al. Ecology and seasonality of sandflies and potential reservoirs of cutaneous leishmaniasis in Ochollo, a hotspot in southern Ethiopia. PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2019;13(8):e0007667

Pareyn M, Kochora A, Van Rooy L, Eligo N, Vanden Broecke B, Girma N, et al. Feeding behavior and activity of Phlebotomus pedifer and potential reservoir hosts of Leishmania aethiopica in southwestern Ethiopia. PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2020;14(3):e0007947.

New article: Can we measure household Food Insecurity?

Kabalo, Bereket Yohannes, Seifu Hagos Gebreyesus, Eskindir Loha, and Bernt Lindtjørn. “Performance of an Adapted Household Food Insecurity Access Scale in Measuring Seasonality in Household Food Insecurity in Rural Ethiopia: A Cohort Analysis.” BMC Nutrition 5, no. 1 (2019/11/20 2019): 54.

Background  Seasonality poses a considerable food security challenge in Ethiopia. Yet, measuring seasonal variations in food insecurity, particularly the dimension of food access, lacks an adequately validated tool. We therefore evaluated the performance of an adapted Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS) to estimate seasonal variations in food insecurity (FI) among subsistence villagers in Ethiopia.

Methods  We employed a cohort study design using a panel of four repeated measurements taken in June, September, and December in the year 2017, and in March 2018. The study recruited 473 villagers from the drought-affected Wolaita area in southwest Ethiopia. The performance of the HFIAS was evaluated via internal consistency (Chronbach’s alpha values) and criterion validation techniques. The set of criteria include: parallelism between affirmative responses to FI questions and wealth strata; dose-response relationship between FI and dietary intake; and also FI severity and household wealth status.

Results  This study revealed that the HFIAS had satisfactory performance in four repeated measurements. The likelihood of affirmative responses to questions about FI decreased with ascending wealth quintiles. We observed an inverse dose-response relationship between FI and wealth status, and between FI and household dietary diversity.

Conclusions  The HFIAS showed an acceptable potential for measuring seasonal variations in FI in the study area. Our findings complement efforts to evaluate the scale’s applicability in various settings, in order to promote cross-culture monitoring and comparisons. However, it required a careful adaption for contextual and cultural sensitivities.

Book Chapter: Developing a sustainable PhD programme: Experiences from southern Ethiiopia

We recently published a chapter about the ideas behind the development of our SENUPH programme in southern Ethiopia:

Lindtjørn, Bernt, Moges Tadesse, and Eskindir Loha. “Developing a Sustainable Phd Programme: Experiences from Southern Ethiopia “ Chap. 18 In Sharing Knowledge Transforming Societies. The Norhed Programme 2013 – 2020, edited by Tor Halvorsen, KS Orgeret and R Krøvel, 442-56. Cape Town, Bergen: African Minds and University of Bergen, 2019.

See book chapter here Lindtjorn-NORHED chapter 18

New and important publication from the Arba Minch group

Mulchandani R, Massebo F, Bocho F, Jeffries CL, Walker T, Messenger LA. A community-level investigation following a yellow fever virus outbreak in South Omo Zone, South-West Ethiopia. PeerJ. 2019;7. doi: 10.7717/peerj.6466.


Despite the availability of a highly effective vaccine, yellow fever virus (YFV) remains an important public health problem across Africa and South America due to its high case-fatality rate. This study investigated the historical epidemiology and contemporary entomological and social determinants of a YFV outbreak in South Omo Zone (SOZ), Ethiopia.


A YFV outbreak occurred in SOZ, Ethiopia in 2012–2014. Historical epidemiological data were retrieved from the SOZ Health Department and analyzed. Entomological sampling was undertaken in 2017, including mosquito species identification and molecular screening for arboviruses to understand mosquito habitat distribution, and finally current knowledge, attitudes and preventative practices within the affected communities were assessed.


From October 2012 to March 2014, 165 suspected cases and 62 deaths were reported, principally in rural areas of South Ari region (83.6%). The majority of patients were 15–44 years old (75.8%) and most case deaths were males (76%). Between June and August 2017, 688 containers were sampled across 180 households to identify key breeding sites for Aedesmosquitoes. Ensete ventricosum (“false banana”) and clay pots outside the home were the most productive natural and artificial breeding sites, respectively. Entomological risk indices classified most sites as “high risk” for future outbreaks under current World Health Organization criteria. Adult mosquitoes in houses were identified as members of the Aedes simpsonicomplex but no YFV or other arboviruses were detected by PCR. The majority of community members had heard of YFV, however few activities were undertaken to actively reduce mosquito breeding sites.


Study results highlight the potential role vector control could play in mitigating local disease transmission and emphasize the urgent need to strengthen disease surveillance systems and in-country laboratory capacity to facilitate more rapid responses to future YFV outbreaks.


Malaria Conference in Hawassa

On December 13, 2017, the MalTrials project, a joint venture between Hawassa University, Addis Ababa University, and University of Bergen held International Research Seminar on Malaria. The conference was held at Haile Resort in Hawassa. The Maltrials project, Combining long-lasting insecticidal nets and indoor residual spraying for malaria prevention in Ethiopia: a cluster randomized controlled trial, started in 2013, and the main results were presented at the conference.

More information, and pictures from the conference can be viewed at the website of Hawassa University: International Research Seminar on Malaria Control held at Hawassa

Human-biting activities of Anopheles species in Ethiopia

Kenea O, Balkew M, Tekie H, Gebre-Michael T, Deressa W, Loha E, Lindtjørn B, Overgaard HJ: Human-biting activities of Anopheles species in south-central Ethiopia. Parasites & vectors 2016, 9(1):1-12.


Background    Indoor residual spraying (IRS) and long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) are the key malaria vector control interventions in Ethiopia. The success of these interventions rely on their efficacy to repel or kill indoor feeding and resting mosquitoes. This study was undertaken to monitor human-biting patterns of Anopheles species in south-central Ethiopia.

Methods   Human-biting patterns of anophelines were monitored for 40 nights in three houses using human landing catches (HLC) both indoors and outdoors between July and November 2014, in Edo Kontola village, south-central Ethiopia. This time coincides with the major malaria transmission season in Ethiopia, which is usually between September and November. Adult mosquitoes were collected from 19:00 to 06:00 h and identified to species. Comparisons of HLC data were done using incidence rate ratio (IRR) calculated by negative binomial regression. The nocturnal biting activities of each Anopheles species was expressed as mean number of mosquitoes landing per person per hour. To assess malaria infections in Anopheles mosquitoes the presence of Plasmodium falciparum and P. vivax circumsporozoite proteins (CSP) were determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).

Results   Altogether 3,408 adult female anophelines were collected, 2,610 (76.6 %) outdoors and 798 (23.4 %) indoors. Anopheles zeimanni was the predominant species (66.5 %) followed by An. arabiensis (24.8 %), An. pharoensis (6.8 %) and An. funestus (s.l.) (1.8 %).

The overall mean anopheline density was 3.3 times higher outdoors than indoors (65.3 vs19.9/person/night, IRR: 3.3, 95 % CI: 1.1–5.1, P = 0.001). The mean density of An. zeimanniAn. pharoensis and An. funestus (s.l.) collected outdoors was significantly higher than indoors for each species (P < 0.05). However, the mean An. arabiensis density outdoors was similar to that indoors (11.8 vs 9.4/person/night, IRR: 1.3, 95 % CI: 0.8–1.9, P = 0.335). The mean hourly human-biting density of An. arabiensis was greater outdoors than indoors and peaked between 21:00 and 22:00 h. However, An. arabiensis parous population showed high indoor man biting activities during bedtimes (22:00 to 05:00 h) when the local people were indoor and potentially protected by IRS and LLINs. All mosquito samples tested for CSP antigen were found negative to malaria parasites.

Conclusions   Results show much greater mosquito human-biting activities occurring outdoors than indoors and during early parts of the night, implying higher outdoor malaria transmission potential in the area. However, high bedtime (22:00 to 05:00 h) indoor biting activities of parous An. arabiensissuggest high potential intervention impact of IRS and LLINs on indoor malaria transmission.

New information about malnutrition in Ethiopia

Seifu-thesis coverNew PhD: On September 16, Seifu Hagos Gebreyesus from Ethiopia, shall defend his PhD work at the University of Bergen:

Spatial variations in child undernutrition in Ethiopia: Implications for intervention strategies


Background: Ethiopia is one of the countries with the highest burden of undernutrition, with rates of stunting and underweight as high as 40% and 25%, respectively. National efforts are underway for an accelerated reduction of undernutrition by the year 2030. However, for this to occur, understanding the spatial variations in the distribution of undernutrition on a varying geographic scale, and its determinants will contribute a quite a bit to enhance planning and implementing nutrition intervention programmes.

Objectives: The aim of this thesis was to evaluate the large- and small-scale spatial variations in the distribution of undernutrition indicators, the underlying processes and the factors responsible for the observed spatial variations.

Methods: We used nationally available climate and undernutrition data to evaluate the macro-scale spatial pattern of undernutrition and its determinants. We applied a panel study design, and evaluated the effect of growing seasonal rainfall and temperature variability on the macro-scale spatial variations (Paper I). We conducted a repeated cross- sectional survey to assess the performance of the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS) developed internationally to measure household food insecurity. The results from this validation work were used to modify the HFIAS items for subsequent papers (Papers III and IV). We conducted a census on six randomly selected kebeles to evaluate the spatial patterns of undernutrition on a smaller scale (Paper III). For Paper IV, we conducted a cross-sectional survey on a representative sample, and employed a Bayesian geo-statistical model to help identify the risk factors for stunting, thereby accounting for the spatial structure (spatial dependency) of the data.

Results: In Paper I, we demonstrated spatial variations in the distribution of stunting across administrative zones in the country, which could be explained in part by rainfall. However, the models poorly explained the variation in stunting within an administrative zone during the study period. We indicated that a single model for all agro-ecologic zones may not be appropriate. In Paper II, we showed that the internal consistency of the HFIAS’ tools, as measured by Cronbach’s alpha, was adequate. We observed a lack of reproducibility in HFIAS score among rural households. Therefore, we modified the HFAIS tool, and used it for subsequent surveys in this thesis (Papers III and IV). In Paper III, spatial clustering on a smaller scale (within a kebele) was found for wasting and severe wasting. Spatial clustering on a higher scale (inter-kebele) was found for stunting and severe stunting. Children found within the identified cluster were 1.5 times more at risk of stunting, and nearly five times more at risk of wasting, than children residing outside this cluster. In Paper IV, we found a significant spatial heterogeneity in the distribution of stunting in the district. Using both the local Anselin Moran’s I (LISA) and the scan statistics, we identified statistically significant clusters of high value (hotspots) and a most likely significant cluster for stunting in the eastern part of the district. We found that the risk of stunting was higher among boys, children whose mother or guardian had no education and children who lived in a food-insecure household. We showed that including a spatial component (spatial structure of the data) into the Bayesian model improved the model fit compared with the model without this spatial component.

Conclusion: We demonstrated that stunting and wasting exhibited a spatial heterogeneity, both on a large and small scale, rather than being distributed randomly. We demonstrated that there is a tendency for undernourished cases (stunting and wasting) to occur near each other than to occur homogeneously. We demonstrated a micro-level spatial variation in risk and vulnerability to undernutrition in a district with a high burden of undernutrition. Identifying such areas where a population at risk lives is central in assisting a geographical targeting of intervention. We recommend further study, possibly using a trial design or implementation research approach, to help evaluate the feasibility and benefits of geographically targeting nutritional interventions.

The thesis can be downloaded here.

Important research on tuberculosis control

Mesay-thesis title

New PhD: On September 5, Mesay Hailu Dangisso from Ethiopia, shall defend his PhD work at the University of Bergen:

Tuberculosis control in Sidama in Ethiopia. Programme performance and spatial epidemiology

The Sustainable Development Goals are to end the TB epidemic by reducing the incidence of TB by 90 % and by reducing mortality by 95% by 2035 from what was in 2015. Globally, access to TB diagnostic and treatment facilities (DOTS) has improved, and millions of TB cases have been notified and treated, which has resulted in many lives being saved. In recent years in Ethiopia, TB control services have been substantially expanded and decentralized, which has improved access to TB care. Assessing trends in TB programme performance (case notification and treatment outcomes), as well as the spatial distribution and variations of the disease, could help in understanding the differentials in accessibility to TB control services, the distribution of disease burden and help in understanding the effectiveness of TB control programmes.

We assessed the distribution of- and accessibility to TB control facilities and trends in TB control programme performance in both urban and rural settings, by age category and by gender, and assessed the case notification rates of childhood TB over 10 years. We also assessed trends of the treatment outcomes of TB cases in order to identify high-risk groups for adverse treatment outcomes. Lastly, we explored spatial distribution and spatio-temporal clustering of the disease over 10 years to identify areas with the highest TB case notifications, and to identify the spatial variations in disease occurrence.

Over 10 years, the accessibility to- and coverage of TB control facilities has improved. Thus, TB control service coverage increased by 36%, and the proportion of locations within 10 km of the nearest TB diagnostic facility also increased. However, we noted variations in physical accessibility between areas in the study area. The mean distance from the nearest smear microscopy unit was 7.6 km in 2003 and declined to 3.2 km in 2012. The substantial expansion of primary health-care services, including TB control facilities and community-based intervention, has contributed to an increase in TB CNRs and treatment outcomes. From this finding, we suggest that a concerted effort be made to improve the accessibility to TB control facilities in areas with low case notification and poor accessibility.

An analysis of the trends of TB case notification and treatment outcomes in different settings based on the correct address, by age category and gender, and place of residence, could help understand the performance of TB control programmes and the epidemiology of TB within a community. We found that the CNRs for all forms of- and smear-positive TB increased steadily between 2003 and 2012. The CNR of smear-positive TB in the 45-year and above age groups rose by nearly fourfold. The disparity between men and women in CNR declined from 16 per 100,000 people in 2003 to eight per 100,000 people in 2012, with the male to female ratio also declining from 1.3:1 to 1.1:1. The increase in CNRs could be attributed to improved access to TB care and community-based interventions.

Over a decade, treatment success increased, whereas mortality and lost-to-follow-up declined. However, more deaths occurred among smear-negative TB cases, in children and among older patients. Targeted interventions are needed to address high-risk groups for adverse treatment outcomes.

The burden of childhood TB is one of the indicators used for assessing the ongoing transmission of the disease within a community. Assessing the case notification and treatment outcome of childhood TB could provide essential evidence to help understand the effectiveness of TB control programmes and the disease burden. Thus, we assessed childhood TB case notification and treatment outcomes over a decade. The mean CNRs for new cases of TB of all forms were 30 per 100,000 children, and no decline was observed in childhood TB cases over a 10-year study period. A community-based active case-finding intervention increased TB case notification in adults and in older children (10-14-year-olds); however, the case notification did not increase among younger children (less than five-years old). This could be explained by inadequate diagnostic facilities for childhood TB despite the community-based intervention, which focuses on symptomatic screening, followed by sputum-smear microscopy and the substantial expansion of TB control services. Better diagnostic facilities and interventions are required to increase case detection, and to improve treatment outcome among younger children.

The burden of TB varies between- and within countries because of differentials in health service performance and the varying distribution of risk factors that increase the transmission of- and susceptibility to the disease. An analysis of the disease burden in coarser geographic or administrative units could hide the burden of the disease at lower administrative units. Therefore, we assessed the distribution of the disease in different geographic settings in the study area, and looked for the pattern of the disease transmission over years, as well as for evidence of spatio- temporal clustering. We found spatial variations in both the disease distribution and spatial and space-time clustering of the disease in the central, northern and northwestern areas of the study area. This could be explained by sustained transmission, disproportionate distribution of risk factors, varying access to TB care and varying TB programme performance, all of which require targeted interventions.

In conclusion, in a population with a high prevalence of tuberculosis, we show that access to tuberculosis diagnostic and treatment facilities, in addition to the performance of TB control programmes, improved from 2003 to 2012. However, we identified areas with poor accessibility to diagnostic and treatment facilities. The low and constant case notification rate in childhood TB is an area of concern, and may indicate an underdiagnosis of childhood tuberculosis. Moreover, the distribution of tuberculosis has changed over time, and in different areas, thereby suggesting a high transmission or variable access to diagnosis and treatment. As a result, the variations in case notification rates, and in accessibility to tuberculosis control services represent challenges on how to improve the organization and performance of TB control.

To download the thesis please clic here.