$25M grant backs U-M project to curb maternal deaths


With a $25 million grant from an anonymous donor, the University of Michigan will begin training doctors in Africa in reproductive health services not widely available to many women living in remote areas of the continent.

The grant will allow faculty at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology to create a center for reproductive health training in order to increase the number of health professionals equipped to provide life-saving reproductive health care, especially to women whose families are poor.

“Every day, women across the globe are dying and suffering from poor health outcomes because they don’t have access to high quality, comprehensive reproductive health care,” says Dr. Senait Fisseha, the center’s director. Fisseha, who was born in Ethiopia, is a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at the U-M Health System.

“We are overwhelmingly grateful for this extraordinary grant that allows us to build on our strong foundation of global reproductive health programs and continue to pursue a longtime dream to provide all women a full scope of high quality reproductive health care when and where they need it.”


Globally, reproductive health issues are a leading cause of poor health and death of women of childbearing age. Women in developing countries suffer disproportionately from reproductive health issues, including unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, maternal death and disability, and sexually transmitted infections.

U-M’s new Center for International Reproductive Health Training will coordinate preservice training to incoming doctors, nurses and midwives with a focus on comprehensive family planning services as well as timing and spacing of pregnancies for safe deliveries.

Unintended pregnancies among Ethiopian women are linked to a higher-than-global-average number of deaths and disability among women. Such deaths are often unnecessary if health care providers are well-trained in critical medical procedures.

The first phase of the project will allow U-M to build on its strong partnership with St. Paul Hospital Millennium Medical College in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by expanding comprehensive preservice reproductive health training to seven other medical schools throughout the country. This partnership was jump-started by Fisseha in 2012 to integrate family planning training into medical education.

Dr. Senait Fisseha will direct U-M’s new Center for International Reproductive Health Training. (Photo by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography)

“Good reproductive health services are essential for healthier women and mothers,” says Fisseha. “And healthier mothers have healthier children and families.”

Fisseha was honored with Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health’s highest award in 2013 for her contributions to the country’s health sector.

“Our center will help empower women to make their own decisions about their own reproductive health, thereby choosing whether and when to start a family,” she says.

“Our ultimate goal is to help train future generations of capable and competent health care providers in many parts of Africa and South Asia who can deliver comprehensive reproductive health services, and also be advocates for the safest and best health care possible at every stage of a woman’s life.”

Women’s health continues to be a particularly urgent health issue in Ethiopia, where the maternal mortality ratio is 420 for every 100,000 births, among the highest in the world. That compares with a maternal mortality ratio of 28 per 100,000 in the United States, eight per 100,000 in the United Kingdom and three per 100,000 in Norway.

“Dr. Fisseha has expertly and efficiently guided the university’s early global initiatives efforts in Ethiopia, a place where she has a deep-rooted professional and personal commitment,” says Dr. Timothy R. B. Johnson, Bates Professor of the Diseases of Women and Children, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and co-founder of the U-M Ghana program.

“We are confident that under her direction, the Center for International Reproductive Health Training will grow into a globally-recognized center that plays a significant role in increasing high quality health services in countries that need them the most.

“Our Ghana model has taught us how bilateral partnerships between physicians and universities in high and low income countries can lead to sustainable ways to improve the health of women, children and families throughout the world. Thanks to this incredibly generous gift, we are able to further our commitment on an unprecedented scale.”

U-M student Emilia Iglesias at St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Photo by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography)

“Medical partnerships in developing countries allow University of Michigan physicians to pool knowledge, expertise and resources across the continents in order to improve people’s health regardless of who they are or where they live,” says Dr. Michael M.E. Johns, interim chief executive vice president of medical affairs. “The OB/GYN-led health programs in Ghana and Ethiopia are two of our best success stories.

“Maternal mortality is one of the greatest health indicators of global disparities. We are thrilled to see this passionate team of U-M doctors receive the support they need to strengthen their work promoting global maternal health.”


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