NPR: A Not-So-Grand Tour Of Tikur Anbessa Hospital in Addis Ababa (Audio)

Family members sit in the waiting room for the neonatal unit at Black Lion hospital in Addis Ababa. (NPR)

NPR

By AMY WALTERS

August 14, 2014

Listen to the Story on NPR’s Morning Edition

When you sign up for a reporting fellowship to learn about the health of newborns in Ethiopia, you expect things to be a little different from what you’re used to in the U.S. To be perfectly honest, a little worse. But Ethiopia actually surprised me, even before I took off.

I did my research, and it turns out that Ethiopia’s health care system is getting better — significantly better. It’s meeting international goals, winning awards from the United States and, more important, babies are living longer and fewer mothers are dying in childbirth.

This is great news. Maybe Ethiopia would be better than I expected. I got some shots in the arm, popped a few anti-malaria pills and hoped for the best.

It was worse. Now, to be fair, all those things I said before are true. More babies are living through childbirth. Infant mortality has decreased by 39 percent in the past 15 years. But one in every 17 Ethiopian children still dies before turning 1, and one in every 11 children dies before age 5. There’s a ways to go.

Once I arrived, it took me awhile to figure out what was actually happening with Ethiopia’s health care. I was more involved in recovering from the jet lag that woke me up at 1 a.m. every day and avoiding mosquitoes like the plague. I was honestly a little mosquito obsessive. I covered myself and each of my belongings with every repellent known to man: cream, spray, patches, bracelets, small mechanized devices. I needed all the help I could get — the little critters are hopelessly attracted to me.

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