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March 7, 2018

A new generation of lung health specialists are now a leading voice in Ethiopia

Current and former fellows of the East Africa Training Initiative, photographed at the 4th Annual Meeting of the Ethiopian Thoracic Society, with Drs. Sherman (top row, second from right) and Dr. Schluger (top row, right).

The 4th annual meeting of the Ethiopian Thoracic Society (ETS) was held in February in Addis Ababa and had as its theme Prevent and Stop Smoking.  This remarkable meeting was attended by over 165 people and marked an important moment in the history of the East African Training Initiative (EATI), a Vital Strategies-sponsored project that has led to the creation of a cohort of Ethiopian physicians trained in clinical and public health aspects of pulmonary medicine and lung disease.

The centerpiece of the ETS meeting was the focus on the issue of tobacco use in Ethiopia.  Speakers included the State Minister of Health, a representative from the Food, Medicine and Health Care Administration and Control Authority of Ethiopia, Dr. Aschalew of Black Lion Hospital (Ethiopia’s largest public hospital) and Dr. Neil Schluger, Senior Advisor for Science at Vital Strategies and a founder of the East African Training Initiative.  Ethiopia, which has the second largest population in Africa (nearly 105 million people) has long had a very low rate of cigarette smoking—only about 6% of the population smokes—but trends are worrisome.  The recent Global Youth Tobacco Survey indicated that almost 12% of Ethiopian youth under the age of 15 had smoked cigarettes, and in December 2017 Japan Tobacco Inc., the world’s 4th largest tobacco company, completed its purchase of 70% of the Ethiopian National Tobacco Enterprise with an investment of nearly $850 million.  In doing so, Japan Tobacco signaled its intention to take aggressive measures to increase tobacco consumption in Ethiopia.  Drs. Schluger, Aschalew and the government representatives described the threat of smoking to Ethiopia’s population and the importance of developing a strong program to fight cigarette use based on the WHO MPOWER strategy.

Dr. Tewedros, far right, Chief of the Pulmonary and Critical Care Division at Black Lion Hospital and a graduate of the EATI, chairing a panel discussion at the ETS meeting with colleagues from the Ministry of Health and USAID.

A second session at the meeting focused on tuberculosis in Ethiopia.  The Ethiopian National Tuberculosis Program director described the efforts and progress the country is making, and the director of USAID’s health program in Ethiopia also described the use of newer technologies and access to newer anti-TB drugs in the country.

The afternoon session of the meeting focused on updates in pulmonary and critical care medicine. Dr. Amsalu, the President of the ETS, and Dr. Charles Sherman, also a founder and director of EATI, gave important updates in this session.  All of the Ethiopian speakers were trained through the EATI.  Currently, there are 14 qualified pulmonary physicians in Ethiopia, and EATI has produced 13 of them since the inception of the program in 2013.

That the ETS meeting was able to attract high government officials from the public health and medical sectors as speakers, and was able to draw such a large and interested cross section of physicians and surgeons interested in the problems of lung disease in Ethiopia represents a signal achievement in the history of EATI, now entering its sixth year.  This program has trained a cohort of extremely well-qualified physicians in pulmonary and critical care medicine, and these physicians are having an important impact in medicine and public health related to lung disease in Ethiopia.  The Ethiopian Thoracic Society has become the leading voice for advocacy and clinical standards of care related to lung disease in the country.

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