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In Ethiopia, a PATH leader strives for health equity

March 29, 2015 by Tirsit Grishaw Legesse, MSc

Tirsit Grishaw Legesse brings deep experience in economic empowerment, health equity, and social and political governance to her new role as country program leader.
A woman holds a baby on her lap as a healthcare worker gives the baby an injection

In Ethiopia, a healthcare worker administers a vaccination to a baby. Photo: PATH/Carib Nelson.

Meet Tirsit Grishaw Legesse, PATH’s new country program leader in Ethiopia. She serves on the Ethiopia Ministry of Health’s working groups on sexual and reproductive health.

Q: You have many years of experience addressing health inequity in a variety of arenas. Are there any factors that you think are overlooked or misunderstood?

Increasing access to health services is critical to improving the health of women and children in low-income countries like Ethiopia. Often, when we talk about access, we look at services provided in a particular geographic area. We measure success by comparing the location and number of health facilities to the population served.

However, the physical availability of health facilities doesn’t always guarantee that they are used. Factors such as transportation and community perceptions about services, cost, and waiting times can deter people. Their use of services is influenced by a variety of factors, such as which services are offered at which location, the direct and indirect costs of health care (e.g., service fees and the costs people pay to travel to health facilities), cultural issues, and providers’ attitudes and competencies.

Equity and quality of care are also important. I think these need significant attention if we are to improve the lives of women and children in Ethiopia.

Q: Where would you like to take PATH’s work in Ethiopia over the next few years?

Ethiopia is a country with abundant human and natural resources, but many have not been fully explored and utilized. With proper institutional structure, well thought-out partnerships, and improved visibility and networking, PATH can catalyze the use of national resources and accelerate efficiency and effectiveness in Ethiopia’s health system.

Opportunities include favorable government policies, a decentralized and well-designed health system that penetrates to the grassroots level, and the fact that the country is showing tremendous improvements in infrastructure development and increased access to service.

Challenges include deep-rooted and sometimes harmful traditional practices, low levels of health-seeking behavior, and an absence of trained personnel and appropriate facilities and infrastructure in the remote areas of the country where the most vulnerable citizens reside.

Q: What do you miss most about Ethiopia when you are away?

When I am away from my country, the first thing I miss is the wonderful climate and hospitality of the people. Though life is tough for many Ethiopians, people are very friendly and caring to each other.

Tirsit joined PATH earlier this year as country program leader for Ethiopia. During her career, she has focused on economic empowerment, social and political governance, human resource development, sexual and reproductive health, and gender. She serves on the Ethiopia Ministry of Health’s working groups on sexual and reproductive health. This profile originally ran in Spotlight, PATH’s internal newsletter.