Dr. Kesetebirhan Admasu

2016 Winner

Position: Minister of Health
Organization: Ministry of Health, Ethiopia

His Excellency Kesetebirhan Admasu is Minister of Health of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. A medical doctor by training with a master’s degree in public health, Dr. Kesetebirhan has dedicated his career to public service and scientific research, focusing on major public health problems in Ethiopia. Prior to his appointment as Minister in November 2012, he served as state Minister for Health Programmes and Director General of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention General Directorate in the Ministry. In his capacity as Director General, he has played a key role in Ethiopia’s health sector reform and led the implementation of the country’s flagship Health Extension Network, which improves the quality and availability of primary health care services—especially family planning and reproductive health—through community-based health workers.

Bearing many children was among the factors which affect maternal health status in Ethiopia. Now, it is estimated that >90% of the Ethiopian population has access to modern FP methods. This was due to the right leadership of Dr. Kesetebirhan Admasu.

Tadele Yitaferu, Deputy Country Director at Jhpiego

Describe your contributions to and achievements in family planning.

As Director General, State Minister, and now as Minister of Health and over a span of ten years, I have overseen reform of the health sector and led the implementation of Ethiopia’s “Health Extension Program.” I’ve championed political commitment, country and community ownership, innovation, task-shifting, integration and scale up for impact.

I have been overseeing the Health Extension Program (HEP), where 38,000 women health extension workers were formally trained and employed as full-time government staff and deployed throughout the country, including hard-to-reach areas. Task shifting, which was instrumental in the provision of contraceptives with rights-based choices such as implants, has made family planning services accessible to the large rural communities. I also led the establishment of the “Women’s Development Army,” creating a platform for community dialogue resulting in an increased proportion of women having both the desire to use and the ability to access contraceptives. This high contraceptive use has resulted in the reduction of total fertility rate from 7.0 to 4.1 and the decline in maternal mortality and morbidity. I believe that I have given my countrywomen their voice and enabled them to strive for better health, education, gender equity and empowerment.

What sparked your passion for family planning?

I view family planning as the number one empowerment tool for any woman to take control of her body, her identity as a woman, and her life, and to secure the authority to make her own decisions and plan her life accordingly. The consequence of the lack of appropriate family planning was evident to me early in my career, when I witnessed the huge impact it had on maternal and child health, socioeconomic standing and overall quality of life. I have seen firsthand what not having a choice to delay pregnancy and space out pregnancies did to both the surviving mother and children–that is, if they did not become victims of the actual unplanned pregnancies. Many of our mothers, sisters and daughters in Ethiopia were victims based on not having the necessary health literacy to even ask for what they knew to be right and never having the optimal environment to ask for it. Many girls were victims of early unplanned pregnancies while barely understanding the transformations their bodies were going through. This was further complicated by the downward-spiraling consequences on girls’ education, health and economic empowerment and overall family prosperity.

My passion was not sparked by the vast amount of evidence around the world on the benefits of family planning, but by the real-life exposure to my countrywomen falling victim to the deleterious consequences of not having the support, access and resources for proper family planning. 

What do you want to accomplish in the next 5 years?

My Ministry recently launched a five-year Health Sector Transformation Plan (HSTP) to build upon the successes and challenges of the past twenty years. To this end, I plan to provide leadership on four important transformation agendas: namely, quality and equity; district transformation; a movement towards compassionate, respectful and caring professionals; and an information revolution. While continuing to strive to expand safe family planning services in the hardest-to-reach areas and investing in an empowered community that understands their rights and asks for safe and planned pregnancies with affordable long-term family planning methods such as postpartum IUDs, my aspiration is to work on national quality and equity and towards an intellectually and economically empowered female population as a result of effective and universally available family planning services. I want to work with my fellow ministers and ministries to collectively harvest the cross-sectoral benefits of family planning for a healthy, educated, empowered female population. I want to witness the contribution of these women to our nation’s overall growth and transformation.