Urogynecology Fellowship in Ethiopia Provides Critical Training for Local OBGYNs

A urogynecology fellowship graduate accepts her certificate during commencement.

Dr. Zehara Sualih, left, was one of the graduates of a urogynecology fellowship that aims to build capacity among OBGYNs in Ethiopia. 

Pelvic floor disorders are estimated to affect up to 40 percent of women in Ethiopia. Most don’t receive the care they need to recover. 

A urogynecology fellowship established in 2015 aims to fix these disparities, and build capacity in the region to ensure local healthcare practitioners have what they need to adequately treat conditions like obstetric fistula, pelvic prolapse and incontinence.

The fellowship was created by a number of partners, anchored by the Mekelle University College of Health Sciences and Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia.

Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility Director of Global Women’s Health, Rahel Nardos, MD, MCR, who was instrumental in launching the program and ensuring its sustainability, attended the fellowship’s most recent graduation ceremony in April. She was honored to be a keynote speaker.

“This fellowship program is more than just a training program. It has a much bigger meaning for the women of Ethiopia and the healthcare professionals who are better empowered to care for them,” said Nardos. “It shows what’s possible when good-hearted people and organizations come together to address the needs of a community.”

This year’s commencement graduated two fellows, Dr. Mohammedtahir Yahya and Dr. Zehara Sualih. The fellowship allows participants to learn new OBGYN skills specific to pelvic floor disorders and become local experts who will influence pelvic floor care education and practice in the country and the region. 

The fellowship takes three years and includes clinical and research training. The seven OBGYNs who have completed the program have collectively provided care for more than 5,000 women in Ethiopia since the fellowship started in 2015.

“The level of care that we give, the updated procedures that we do, are making differences in the lives of the mothers,” said Dr. Yahya. “It is the fellowship program that took us from one level to another level to give this quality of care to these patients.”

The fellows’ graduation this year was made more impressive by what they had to endure during their training. Civil war in the Tigray region of Ethiopia broke out in late 2020 and lasted two years, creating a humanitarian crisis in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Despite all the challenges and everything, for me what matters is the knowledge I got from the training,” said Dr. Sualih. “Because I always feel that, for a doctor, what is the dream is knowing the best thing to give to the patient.”

Dr Sualih was the only woman in her fellowship cohort, a reflection of the low number of female gynecologists in the country. She said she witnessed the struggles of those with pelvic floor disorders growing up. The experience led her to pursue a career in obstetrics.

“When I was a child, I had the chance to see lots of women, including fistula patients at a very young age. So even if I couldn’t understand that this was fistula, or this was a birth injury, I had the gut to say I have to be somebody and to treat these women,” said Sualih. 

Learn more about the Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility’s Global Women’s Health Initiative.

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