Department of Health officer

Mettu University Faculty of Public Health and Medical Science

Department of Health Officers

Health officer training began in 1954, and was the first degree program in health professional training at the then College of Public Health at Gonder, in the northwest of Ethiopia.  At the time, there was no training of medical doctors in Ethiopia. The college was established in order to meet the need for health professionals to work in rural communities. The program began with a four-year post-high-school training program with a unique curriculum that incorporated clinical skills and public health activities in order to meet the urgent needs of the country.

 The Ethiopian population is primarily rural.  Health officers carried out most of the activities in Ethiopia’s rural hospitals and health centers,   Health officers made an enormous contribution for many years, providing comprehensive services to rural communities.  Even after the medical school was established in Addis Ababa 40 years ago, the health officer training program continued.  But when the College of Public Health was transformed into the Gonder College of Medical Sciences and started training medical doctors, the health officer training ceased. Subsequently, some of the health officers entered medical school to become physicians; others followed the stream of public health to the MPH or PhD level; and a few remained as health officers doing primarily public health administrative work.

 However, since the public health need could not be met with the scarce number of doctors alone, about 20 years after the cessation of the health officer training, Federal Ministry of Health restarted the program at five centers in the country. However, currently, the program is being run in most of the Ethiopian Universities. The training is designed to prepare graduates to carry out most public health services at the rural health centers, promotive, preventive and curative, including emergency surgery (like caesarean section, some traumas and appendectomy).  

In 1996 E.C, there were 50 health officers in Ethiopia; in 2000 there were nearly 500. Although the undertaking is one way of tackling the shortage of doctors in the country, to our knowledge, health centre facilities have not yet been upgraded to do emergency surgery, and the training may need to be tailored to enable health officers to have adequate hands-on experience with emergency surgery. Short of this, the health officers do a lot of work on the preventive, health administrative and curative aspects of health care delivery in the rural community, and this undertaking is an appropriate substitute for those in need. In the absence of specific program evaluation data, generally, they are competent enough consistent with the level of training and to the kind of public health service they are expected to provide to the community. This could be a commendable solution where doctors are scarce in similar developing countries.