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An obvious message

The Reporter (Addis Ababa)
December 27, 1999

Addis Ababa - Among the news stories that egotistically crowd the state media, the completion of the construction of clinics, health posts, hospitals, schools, mini-dams, etc. are some. These stories seem to give us the feeling that the country is developing, as most of these establishments are being erected in such rural areas where nothing like health centers or hospitals are known. One would thus tend to feel that Ethiopia is better off today because a region without a clinic now has a clinic, a region without a school now has one, etc.

But, what if these establishments are there just for the sake of being there, or at the most for the sake of statistics, or for the sake of lipservice? What if they are there without providing any service to the community? Would their presence be any better than their absence? Would the community be better off?

These are the questions we are compelled to ask upon learning that more than a dozen health posts, health centers and hospitals that were built and equipped from one to two years ago in the Gurage Zone of Southern Ethiopia are still sitting idle. Meanwhile, a hospital (which can be described as "huge" by the standards of rural Ethiopia) in Butajira has been reduced to nothing but a deserted building as it has not been allowed to operate for more than a year now.

This is at a time when the population (the actual financiers of these institutions) are being wiped out by such easily preventable and curable diseases as malaria and tuberculosis.

It is evident that these health posts and centers could not be opened because they do not have either the requisite manpower or equipment to run them. But that in itself raises questions: why was so much money spent on these health posts and centers without sufficient study being made on whether it is or is not possible to run them with the manpower and equipment available? Why build health posts with no medical equipment? Why build hospitals where there are no health professionals?

Of course, these non-functional health institutions would line up in some performance report to make a sizable number and give the impression that those responsible for building them are doing their jobs well. The state media assists in this by announcing that so many clinics were built in one region or so many health centers were inaugurated in another - while the needy community all the same remains divorced from basic health services.

Our message here is nothing more than a statement of the obvious, but is for those who have refused to see the obvious: health institutions are built to provide health services, and not to score numbers - because it's better health services, not numbers, that make people's lives better.

Publication Date: December 22, 1999

Copyright (c) 1999 The Reporter. Distributed via Africa News Online ( For information about the content or for permission to redistribute, publish or use for broadcast, contact the publisher.

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