12 Jan 2010

UNICEF provides $4million for the OU and partners to train community health workers in Ethiopia

The Open University’s HEAT (Health Education and Training) programme and its partners have been awarded $4 million by UNICEF to help train Ethiopia’s 31,000 rural community health workers. Starting in 2010, a pilot cohort of 1,000 community health workers (known as Health Extension Workers in Ethiopia) will begin studying the first of four modules on antenatal care, labour and delivery, postnatal care and the integrated management of newborn and childhood illnesses.

The HEAT programme will use the OU’s established and successful distance-learning model to develop tailored learning materials which will enable rural health workers to remain in their communities while improving their skills. The distance-learning materials will be studied alongside practical skills training and by upgrading the community health workers as birth attendants and equipping them to treat common childhood illnesses including pneumonia; these modules will help Ethiopia meet the Millennium Development Goals, to reduce child mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters by 2015.

The OU’s HEAT team is working in partnership with the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health, UNICEF, AMREF, Jhpiego and Ethiopian experts from a range of specialisms including maternal and child health, medicine, nursing and midwifery.

Martin Bean, Vice-Chancellor of The Open University, said: “Ethiopia currently has one of the highest child and maternal mortality rates in the world and we are delighted by the support shown by UNICEF for the HEAT programme. We’re also grateful to our many partners that have helped to bring the project to this stage, and whose continued support ensures the positive development of healthcare provision in Ethiopia. Health workers provide, in many cases, the only health support in rural areas and it’s vital that they have access to high quality effective training.

“Education has the power to help countries to meet their targets for saving lives, particularly of women and children. The OU shares this vision and with the funding from UNICEF, and the established support of many health organisations in Africa, HEAT and its partners can make this goal a reality.”

Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia, said: "The Health Extension Programme is the most important platform for scaling up basic maternal, newborn and child health and nutrition interventions in rural Ethiopia. A career path for the Health Extension Workers is critical for their motivation and the quality of services is dependent on their skills and competencies. UNICEF is committed to support the Government of Ethiopia in the development of a stronger Health Extension Programme and this collaboration with The Open University is an exciting way to empower the Health Extension Workers and strengthen the programme".

Since 2004, the Ethiopian government has built over 12,500 rural health posts to serve local communities throughout the country. Each health post is staffed by two community health workers and serves between 5,000 and 7,000 people. Through work-based distance learning, provided by the HEAT programme and its partners, community health workers will be able to upgrade existing skills and learn new skills whilst continuing to deliver crucial services to their communities.

The pilot will then be extended to address other competencies, such as managing infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB and diarrhoeal diseases), family planning, adolescent reproductive health, nutrition and food safety, domestic hygiene, water quality and waste disposal, non-communicable diseases, health education and community mobilisation. The intention is to roll out the whole curriculum to the remaining 30,000 rural community health workers across Ethiopia by 2012.

In addition the distance learning modules will be available as open educational resources, free to download from the HEAT website, adapt and use by other countries across Africa and beyond in their healthcare education and training programmes.

Notes to editors

1. Lesley-Anne Long, Director of HEAT, is available for interview. Photos of preliminary work in Ethiopia are available upon request.

2. AMREF (the African Medical and Research Foundation) and Jhpiego (an affiliate of John Hopkins University) are international not-for-profit organisations with decades of experience in strengthening the delivery of healthcare in disadvantaged communities.

3. The Health Extension Programme was developed to provide basic health care for the rural communities of Ethiopia. The Open University HEAT programme provides the vision and distance-learning capabilities to upgrade and enhance the skills of Health Extension Workers.

4. HEAT is modelled on the OU’s TESSA (Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa) programme which is already providing training and support for 200,000 primary school teachers in nine countries in Africa. TESSA won a prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2009. For more information about the work the OU is doing in Africa, go to

5. The Open University is the UK’s largest university with more than 220,000 students and over two million alumni. It was ranked top among UK universities for student satisfaction in the UK government’s National Student Survey, 2009.

6. In the 2009 Research Assessment Exercise more than 50% of The Open University’s research was classed as Internationally Excellent and 14% as world leading.

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