September 27, 2013
Dr. Yemisrach Mulugeta
From the early days of Dr. Yemisrach Mulugeta’s medical career -- after leaving her native Ethiopia, working and living in Scotland, then in the U.S., she knew she would one day be in a position to improve the way health care is delivered in Ethiopia. As a physician at a Warrenton, Virginia hospital, she knew the time had come.
“It was always in the back of my mind,” she said. “I am at a point in my life now where I could look beyond and reach out to others in need.”
She explained, “Ethiopia is a developing nation and resources are very limited. Maternal and child health is an area that needs a lot of focus and attention. The childhood mortality is high compared to other nations.”
The 2013 progress report, compiled by the UN Children’s Fund UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Bank Group, showed Ethiopia has reduced child deaths under the age of five by 67% compared with 1990 figures.
However, an increasing number of the remaining child deaths in Ethiopia are attributed to newborn deaths. The neonatal mortality rate in Ethiopia is 3.9% of babies born alive, compared to .004% of babies in the U.S.
Dr. Mulugeta, a Fauquier Health hospitalist, was invited to join some of her Ethiopian colleagues living in the U.S. to help form a non-profit organization dedicated to saving infants’ lives born in Ethiopia.
Horn of Africa Neonatal Services (H.A.N.D.S) was formed with a mission to help existing neonatal facilities in the country by providing basic medical supplies and skilled clinical training to the local hospitals.
“We organize medical teams consisting of a doctor, a nurse and a respiratory therapist, who volunteer one to two weeks of their time to work with the clinical staff in Ethiopia.”
Although she is not able to travel back to her homeland herself, Dr. Mulugeta facilitates the efforts by coordinating shipments of donated medical supplies and equipment to Ethiopia, and increasing awareness through social media outlets, quarterly e-Newsletters and fund-raising events.
The hospitals in Ethiopia are in dire need of basic supplies. Infections that could be prevented by simple hand washing and use of hand sanitizers are widespread. There are times when there is no running water, sanitizing lotion or even gloves in some facilities. Basic medical equipment such as, stethoscopes, diapers, measuring tapes, pulse oximeters, and other monitoring devices are very scarce. Medications, vaccines, IV fluids and infant food are also in short supply. The lives of infants are so often cut short because of lack of medical supplies and equipment. In November of 2012, H.A.N.D.S. shipped 450 pounds of supplies to a hospital in Ethiopia, and in May of this year, and followed that with a 550-pound shipment.
One respiratory therapist who traveled on a medical mission trip this year described her experience in Ethiopia: “The staff and students there were gracious and eager to learn. They are educated, but lacked the resources and equipment to improve their hospital outcomes.
“There was no running water for eight of the 14 days we were there. The hospital fills barrels with water when they are able... They heat water for infant baths in an old coffee pot.........Seven infants expired in two weeks. Two would have passed in any country, but the other five were preventable deaths.”
Dr. Mulugeta said, “I have been so inspired by the clinicians and nursing staff who traveled to Ethiopia on the mission trips. They were able to come up with objective solutions to some of the needs identified. We will continue to make a difference, one infant at a time.”
For further details, visit the H.A.N.D.S. website (www.handsforbabies.org).