UW’s ‘pushing hand’ gave rise to huge Ethiopia health center
Last summer, the opening of a comprehensive outpatient center in Ethiopia’s historic town of Gondar was heralded as a beacon of a stronger healthcare system in East Africa. The clinic is designed to accommodate 370,000 patient visits and train 285 healthcare students every year – a size and scope unprecedented in Ethiopia.
“We couldn’t have built this center without the University of Washington,” said Dr. Mengesha Admassu, president of the University of Gondar. He was reflecting with colleagues at the UW’s global health offices across from Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
A UW-inspired donor provided seed funds, and UW staff provided technical assistance in working with architects, engineers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Staff who offered a “pushing hand,” as Admassu said, characterized the project as the most gratifying of their careers.
“My career could end today and it would be so fulfilling,” said architect Christine Kiefer, Harborview’s director of planning. She traveled five times to Ethiopia to help manage the complexity of melding a multipurpose clinical site with a teaching facility.
“I can’t think of anything more worthwhile,” said Dr. Scott Barnhart, UW professor of medicine and global health and the former medical director at Harborview, who also provided technical assistance.
The center was built on the grounds of Ethiopia’s oldest medical training institution. It includes 75 exam rooms for the full spectrum of outpatient services. Clinics include HIV care for adult and pediatric patients, maternal and child health, pediatrics, internal medicine and surgical services. A specially designed clinic enables safe care of patients with tuberculosis.
It also houses a casualty unit to support training and care for emergency medical services, and has rooms for a lab, pharmacy, CT scan, MRI. Other spaces are dedicated to support education and research.
At the inauguration July 6, 2014, U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Patricia Haslach remarked, “The U.S. government is proud to partner with the University of Gondar in saving more lives and building a sustainable health system. This new comprehensive outpatient center is one example of the partnership.”
When the project started, Ethiopia’s population of 80 million had just 2,000 physicians (0.3 per 10,000 people, vs. 24.2 physicians per 10,000 in the United States). This new center will help in that regard.
UW’s International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) had been building the capacity of health workers in Ethiopia since 2003 in collaboration with its partners at University of Gondar, University of Mekelle and Bahir Dar University. But it was Seattle businessman Brooks Simpson who really helped get this project rolling.
He had heard a presentation from Dr. King Holmes, UW professor of medicine and global health, on how donor seed money in Kenya got the CDC to invest in a network of HIV/AIDS clinics. Simpson, owner of Bellevue-based Pacific Rim Medical Systems, which distributes defribillators, was interested in putting up money for another such project. Because of I-TECH’s work in Ethiopia, the University of Gondar was chosen as project site.
In 2009, I-TECH leaders had proposed a larger center to the CDC. So when Barnhart, a principal investigator at I-TECH, engaged Tom Kenyon, the CDC's director in Ethiopia, in the clinic project, its scale mushroomed. Far beyond an HIV clinic, Kenyon wanted something that could ramp up the country's healthcare capacity and help train much-needed physicians, nurses and lab technicians.
“In an afternoon, the plan went from a small thing to this,” Kiefer said, looking at the site plan.
Kenyon’s aims also aligned with Dr. Admassu's goals. “It was fortuitious timing inspired by Dr. Admassu’s vision that allowed the CDC to think beyond normal parameters,” Barnhart said.
Over the next year I-TECH staff worked to coordinate many willing partners to make the concept a reality. The center, a $9 million project funded by the CDC, now serves as the nucleus for a new hospital complex at the University of Gondar. And with a nod to UW, a training hall at the school was named the King Holmes Continuing Professional Development Center.
“What a wonderful and humbling experience,” Holmes said.