In February, urban health program managers from Ethiopia had a unique experience-sharing opportunity as they traveled to India to learn how health issues are being tackled in its highly diverse urban and peri-urban communities. Supported by MCHIP and arranged by USAID/India and its Health for the Urban Poor (HUP) project, the India study tour offered urban health professionals from both nations the opportunity to exchange ideas, tools, successes and challenges.
The delegation from Ethiopia represented a diverse group of the country’s urban health community, comprised of directors and managers from the national Ministry of Health, the country’s regional and municipal health offices, USAID/Ethiopia and the USAID/Ethiopia Urban Health Extension Project (UHEP). Excited about the tremendous opportunity for learning and exchange that the tour offered, the Ethiopian colleagues arrived in Mumbai full of questions and ready to share their own successes and challenges with their Indian colleagues. Although the magnitude of urban growth and poverty are quite different in the two countries, and India has been working on urban health issues for much longer than Ethiopia, many of the challenges faced proved to be relatable, and lessons could be drawn from one another’s experiences.
One of the first activities of the tour was a meeting with the Mumbai District AIDS Control Society (MDCAS), the organization that launched the well-known "Saadhan Helpline" in 2002 to enable people to receive information on HIV/AIDS via the phone. Despite being a paying service, the Helpline has become tremendously popular, to the extent that it now provides not only HIV information, but also reproductive health and family planning counseling and may soon add tuberculosis and malaria prevention and care advice.
After speaking with some of the counselors in the call center, Samuel Yalew, UHEP's Chief of Party, said: "This is terrific. We have a call center helpline in Ethiopia, but this is limited to HIV counseling. We have an opportunity here to consider other unmet needs. This is something we had not thought about until now."
Another highlight of the trip took place as the Ethiopian delegation moved to New Delhi. Anand Rudra of USAID/India proposed a Skype call to bring together communities and health workers from Ethiopia and India so that they might learn from one another, forge new bonds, and strengthen the determination and drive of all involved. On the Delhi side, USAID/India and the HUP program mobilized a women’s group from the Sanjay Gandhi slum, and on the Addis side, USAID’s UHEP project brought together two urban health extension professionals along with their "model families."
This experiment proved to be a great success. The women were excited to connect with each other and to see that there are groups "like them" in other countries who share similar experiences. On both sides, the women expressed great interest in wanting to continue to communicate, as they felt they had much to learn from one another, and agreed to connect again in one month’s time. The session ended on a high note with a song from the MAS women’s group in New Delhi and a coffee ceremony from the Addis group to express their thanks.
These highlights describe just a few of the many fascinating meetings and activities from a study tour rich in ideas and enthusiasm. During the 12-day tour, the Ethiopian delegation visited programs not only in Mumbai and New Delhi, but also in Pune, Bhubaneswar and Agra. It seemed that each day, the delegation and their Indian counterparts fit together another piece of the urban health puzzle and new ideas were sparked. Everyone was excited and engaged, eager to use the momentum from this tremendous incubation of ideas as a catalyst to take the next step in their own communities.
The Ethiopian urban health champions and those of us who accompanied them on the tour have now returned home. In the months ahead, we are excited that MCHIP will be supporting USAID/UHEP and the Ethiopian colleagues as they begin adapting and piloting some of the many new ideas and approaches seen in India. We’ll also be looking for new urban programming opportunities in other countries with similarly fast-growing urban and peri-urban populations.
MCHIP Senior Program Officer