The top U.S. aid official says development assistance to Ethiopia's health sector has helped save thousands of children's lives in the past year. The progress came even as the Horn of Africa was hit by the worst drought in more than half a century.
USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah says his second visit to Ethiopia in less than a year has convinced him programs aimed at promoting resilience to drought and disasters work. He pointed out one that helped dramatically increase the number of health clinics in rural areas, where the vast majority of Ethiopians live.
"Because of those joint partnerships that we have had for years and years, last year, we now know, that partnership helped save 36,000 Ethiopian kids' lives," said Shah. "That's the kind of important widespread result that hopefully will lay the basis for a more prosperous and more successful Ethiopia into the future."
Ethiopia remains one of the poorest and most drought-prone countries in Africa, but a new survey shows improvement in several areas. The number of children with stunted growth has dropped to 44 percent, down from 58 percent in 2000.
Twenty years ago, every fifth child died by the age of five. Today, 10 out of 11 make it past their fifth birthday. USAID's Shah says the results are a credit to Ethiopia's effective use of aid dollars.
"It is one of the most rapid reductions in the rate of child deaths experienced anywhere in world over the past five years," he said. "We know what's driving that result. Malaria programs that provide bed nets to kids and treat children who get fevers, providing vaccines, for pneumonia, diarrhea, and other diseases to kids, and then when they do get sick, and ensuring community worker is able to provide some basic hydration and services and care."
The survey shows less improvement in Ethiopia's struggling education system. The country is on track to meet a goal of universal primary education within the next three years. However, the latest statistics show only a little more than one-third of women and two-thirds of men are literate.
The report indicates that over half of Ethiopian women have no formal education.
The United States and other international donors are implementing a program designed to dramatically improve literacy rates among school children.
The United States has long been Ethiopia's largest aid donor. Last year's contribution totaled nearly $900 million, including $425 million in food security and emergency aid programs, $400 million for the health sector, and more than $20 million for literacy programs.