The World Health Organization’s 2006 World Health Report gives a figure of 1,936 physicians (for 2003), which comes to about 2.6 per 100,000. Globalization is said to affect the country, with many educated professionals leaving Ethiopia for better economic opportunities in the West.
Ethiopia’s main health problems are said to be communicable (contagious) diseases worsened by poor sanitation and malnutrition. Over 44 million people (more than half the population) do not have access to clean water. These problems are exacerbated by the shortage of trained doctors and nurses and health facilities.
The state of public health is considerably better in the cities. Birth rates, infant mortality rates, and death rates are lower in cities than in rural areas due to better access to education, medicines, and hospitals. Life expectancy is better in cities compared to rural areas, but there have been significant improvements witnessed throughout the country in recent years, the average Ethiopian living to be 62.2 years old, according to a UNDP report. Despite sanitation being a problem, use of improved water sources is also on the rise; 81% in cities compared to 11% in rural areas. As in other parts of Africa, there has been a steady migration of people towards the cities in hopes of better living conditions.
There are 119 hospitals (12 in Addis Ababa alone) and 412 health centers in Ethiopia. Infant mortality rates are relatively high, as 41 infants die per 1,000 live births. Ethiopia has been able to reduce under-five mortality by two-thirds (one of the Millennium Development Goals) since 1990. Although this is a dramatic decrease, birth-related complications such as obstetric fistula affect many of the nation’s women.
The HIV AIDS prevalence rate in Ethiopia stood at 1.1% in 2014, a dramatic decrease from 4.5% 15 years ago. The most affected are poor communities and women, due to lack of health education, empowerment, awareness and lack of social well-being. The government of Ethiopia and many private organizations like World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations, are launching campaigns and are working aggressively to improve Ethiopia’s health conditions and promote health awareness on AIDS and other communicable diseases (Dugassa, 2005).
Ethiopia has a relatively high infant and maternal mortality rate. Although, Ethiopia did not meet the MDG target of reducing maternal mortality rate by two thirds in 2015, there are improvements nonetheless. For instance, the contraception prevalence rate increased from 8.1% in 2000 to 41.8% in 2014, and Antenatal care service coverage increase from 29% to an astounding 98.1% in the same period. Currently, the maternal mortality rate stands at 420 per 100,000 live births. Only a minority of Ethiopians are born in hospitals, while most are born in rural households. Those who are expected to give birth at home have elderly women serve as midwives who assist with the delivery.
The low availability of health-care professionals with modern medical training, together with lack of funds for medical services, leads to the preponderance of less-reliable traditional healers that use home-based therapies to heal common ailments.
One common cultural practice, irrespective of religion or economic status, is female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting (FGC), a procedure that involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The practice has been made illegal in Ethiopia in 2004. FGM is a pre-marital custom mainly endemic to Northeast Africa and parts of the Near East that has its ultimate origins in Ancient Egypt. Encouraged by women in the community, it is primarily intended to deter promiscuity and to offer protection from assault.
The country has a high prevalence of FGM, but prevalence is lower among young girls. Ethiopia’s 2005 Demographic and Health Survey (EDHS) noted that the national prevalence rate is 74% among women ages 15–49. The practice is almost universal in the regions of Dire Dawa, Somali, and Afar. In the Oromo and Harari regions, more than 80% of girls and women undergo the procedure. FGC is least prevalent in the regions of Tigray and Gambela, where 29% and 27% of girls and women, respectively, are affected. According to a 2010 study performed by the Population Reference Bureau, Ethiopia has a prevalence rate of 81% among women ages 35 to 39 and 62% among women ages 15–19. A 2014 UNICEF report found that only 24% of girls under 14 had undergone FGM.
The Government of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia is signatory to various international conventions and treaties that protect the rights of women and children. Its constitution provides for the fundamental rights and freedoms for women. There is an attempt being made to raise the social and economic status of women through eliminating all legal and customary practices, which hinder women’s equal participation in society and undermine their social status.