June 6, 2022

New UMMS-led Family Planning Fellowship in Ethiopia having an impact

Established with help from Michigan Medicine, a new fellowship program in Ethiopia for family planning and reproductive health is improving maternal care and increasing options for women.

St. Paul's Millennium Hospital and Medical College, in Ethiopia, the site of the Family Planning Fellowship program.

The training program—a first not just in Ethiopia but indeed in all of East Africa—was launched in 2018. Its progress and successes to date are detailed in a recent publication by Ethiopian and U-M collaborators.

“The fellowship has introduced several new initiatives and skills to the existing reproductive health care training options,” the team writes in the February edition of the journal Contraception. “This program is a stirring example of successful collaboration between a U.S. university and a college in a low- or middle-income country.”

In recent decades, expanded access to abortion services in Ethiopia has increased the need for specialized providers, both to offer quality services and train other professionals. Launched in 2018 as a collaboration between St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College and the Center for International Reproductive Health Training at U-M, the new Family Planning fellowship builds on an Obstetrics and Gynecology collaboration established years earlier.

The two-year Family Planning curriculum focuses on five key areas: education, clinical skills, research, leadership, and advocacy. Three fellows have completed the program to date, with an additional five in training. While the program has produced just a handful of trainees so far, their collective impact is already being felt across the country.

They are helping to improve multidisciplinary patient care by training medical students, ob-gyn resident physicians and providers in other specialty units all across the country. Because data on family planning use and outcomes is not readily available from rural communities, the fellows conduct and publish research in these fields and use their findings to improve services; since the beginning of the program, more than 30 fellow-authored articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals.

Fellows have established relationships and are working closely with several non-governmental organizations active in the family planning realm, helping to coordinate priorities and communication between the NGOs, the Ethiopian government, and private sector providers. One program fellow is the current president of the Ethiopian Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The Fellows have also put their new training to use in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, where an ongoing civil war has unfortunately increased the incidence of sexual violence and likely the need for abortion services. Though the violence makes it too dangerous for the fellows provide care in Tigray in person, they have shared protocols, training modules and videos, and other materials to help local providers meet the needs of women in the region.

“We believe graduates of this fellowship will expand access to quality, evidence-based abortion, family planning, and other SRH services just as much through their involvement with education, policy, and advocacy as they do in their direct clinical work,” the authors note. “These experts will continue serving the country … and will provide important sexual and reproductive health and research expertise at a national and global level.”