Transformative Education
for Health Professionals

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Ethiopia’s Health Officers

Samson Tekeste, BSC,MPH , Marie Meckel MPH, PA-C, Nadia Cobb, MS, PA-C

Ethiopia the 3rd largest country in Africa, with a total population of 89 million. The development of the Health Officer (HO) in Ethiopia initially started in 1954 in response to the Malaria epidemic but was later stopped. The Ministry of Health -Ethiopia restarted in 2004 to increase access to healthcare through a nation wide initiative. There are currently more than 3,500 in service, with 1,776 in training.

Full project description: 

The African Health Observatory (World Health Organization (WHO)) shows a 0.7/1000 ratio for the health workforce in Ethiopia, which is below the WHO recommendation of 2.3/1000. They also note the physician to population ratio as being one of the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa at 1:42,706.1

The development of the Health Officer (HO) was an excellent addition to the Ethiopian health care provider shortage, with currently more than 3500 in service. More than 1776 are in training currently. In 2004 Ethiopia launched the Health Extension Program (in partnership with the Carter Center), which was designed to increase human resource development at the community level. The goal was to train an additional five thousand HO’s by 2009. Five universities and 20 hospitals all over the country engaged in this initial work.

The HO receives four years of training, which includes both theoretical knowledge and practical clinical skills in hospitals and health centers. There are 12 government universities where HO’s are trained.  These are GondarHawassa, Haramaya, Jimma , Dilla Mekelle, Arba Minch, Ambo, Wollo, Wolaita Sodo and Addis Ababa Science and Technology University.

The HO is trained with a focus on primary care, with minor surgical procedures, as well as managerial health care service. The HO serves mostly in health centers in both urban and rural locations, however the majority of HO’s are found in rural locations.

In 2009 it was estimated that 85% of the population lived in rural areas where the HO’s serve. Further development of the HO will help Ethiopia continue to address its health workforce shortage especially in rural areas where the need is greatest.



2. GHWA Task Force on Scaling Up Education and Training for Health Workers, 2010


Photo credit: Public Health Officers Association of Ethiopia Face book

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