According to the head of the World Bank's Global HIV/AIDS Program, Ethiopia has only 1 medical doctor per 100,000 people. However, the World Health Organization's 2006 World Health Report gives a figure of 1936 physicians (for 2003), which comes to about 2.6 per 100,000. Globalization is said to affect the country, with many educated professionals leaving Ethiopia for a better economic opportunity in the West.
Ethiopia's main health problems are said to be communicable diseases caused by poor sanitation and malnutrition. These problems are exacerbated by the shortage of trained manpower and health facilities.
Health is much greater in the cities. Birth rates, infant mortality rates, and death rates are lower in the city than in rural areas owing to better access to education and hospitals. Life expectancy is higher at 53, compared to 48 in rural areas. Despite sanitation being a problem, use of improved water sources is also greater; 81% in cities compared to 11% in rural areas. This encourages more people to migrate to the cities in hopes of better living conditions.
There are 119 hospitals (12 in Addis Ababa alone) and 412 health centers in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has a relatively low average life expectancy of 58 years. Infant mortality rates are relatively very high, as over 8% of infants die during or shortly after childbirth, (although this is a dramatic decrease from 16% in 1965) while birth-related complications such as obstetric fistula affect many of the nation's women.
The other major health problem in Ethiopia is spread of AIDS. AIDS has mainly affected poor communities and women, due to lack of health education, empowerment, awareness and lack of social well-being. The government of Ethiopia and many private organizations like World health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations, are launching campaigns and are working aggressively to improve Ethiopia’s health conditions and promote health awareness on AIDS and other communicable diseases (Dugassa, 2005). Many believe that sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea result from touching a stone after a female dog urinates on it and there is a general belief that these diseases are caused by bad spirits and supernatural causes. Others believe that eating the reproductive organs of a black goat will help expel the diseases from those same organ in their body (Kater, 2000). Ethiopia has high infant and maternal mortality rate. Only a minority of Ethiopians are born in hospitals; most of them are born in rural households. Those who are expected to give birth at home have elderly women serve as midwives assist with the delivery (Kater, 2000) The increase in infant and maternal mortality rate is believed to be due to lack of women’s involvement in household decision- making, immunization and social capital (Fantahun, Berhane, Wall, Byass, & Hogberg, 2007). On the other hand, the “WHO estimates that a majority of maternal fatalities and disabilities could be prevented if deliveries were to take place at well-equipped health centers, with adequately trained staff” (Dorman et al., 2009, p. 622).
The low availability of health care professionals with modern medical training, together with lack of funds for medical services, leads to the preponderancy of less reliable traditional healers that use home-based therapies to heal common ailments. One medical practice that is commonly practiced irrespective of religion or economic status is female genital cutting (FGC) or female circumcision, a procedure by which some of a woman's external genital tissue, such as the clitoral hood, the clitoris or labia, are removed. According to a study performed by the Population Reference Bureau, Ethiopia has a prevalence rate of 81% among women ages 35 to 39 and 62% among women ages 15–19. Ethiopia’s 2005 Demographic and Health Survey (EDHS) noted that the national prevalence rate is 74% among women ages 15–49. The practice is almost universal in the regions of Dire Dawa, Somali and Afar; in the Oromo and Harari regions, more than 80% of girls and women undergo the procedure. FGC is least prevalent in the regions of Tigray and Gambela, where 29% and 27% of girls and women, respectively, are affected. In 2004, the Ethiopian Government enacted a law against FGC. Female circumcision is a pre-marital custom mainly endemic to Northeast Africa and parts of the Near East that has its ultimate origins in Ancient Egypt. Encouraged by women in the community, it is primarily intended to deter promiscuity and to offer protection from assault. About 76% of Ethiopia's male population is also reportedly circumcised.
The Government of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia is signatory to various international conventions and treaties that protect the rights of women and children. Its constitution provides for the fundamental rights and freedoms for women. There is an attempt being made to raise the social and economic status of women through eliminating all legal and customary practices, which hinder women’s equal participation in society and undermine their social status.
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