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Global Health
Ethiopia—a country with 13 months of sunshine

by Mulugeta Gebregziabher and Abeba Teklehaimanot
Ethiopia’s history dates back to the third century B.C. It is characterized by a mosaic of diverse cultures and people who speak more than 80 languages. As the cradle of the human race, it has more UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) registered world-heritage sites than any other country. It follows a 13-month lunar calendar with each month lasting 30 days, except the 30th month of five days (six days if it’s a leap year). Consequently, it is now 2002 instead of 2010.
“Lucy” (after the Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”) was found in 1974.

Recent archeological and genetic evidences suggest that the origin of the human race is from Ethiopia. In October 2009, scientists announced the discovery of the oldest fossil skeleton of a human ancestor, Ardi (4.4 million years old), which revealed that our forebears underwent a previously unknown stage of evolution more than a million years before Lucy, the iconic early human ancestor specimen that walked the earth 3.2 million years ago.
Ardi was discovered in Ethiopia at a site called Aramis, just 46 miles from where Lucy was found in 1974. Lucy is currently traveling to museums in the United States, introducing Americans to Ethiopia and its past and future. Two recent studies in Science and Nature (Li JZ et al. 2008; Jakobsson, M. et al. 2008) looking at worldwide, genetic diversity have also shown that humans spread around the globe through a series of migrations that originated from a location near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The Blue Nile is a river originating at Lake Tana in Ethiopia. With the White Nile, the river is one of the two major tributaries of the Nile. The upper reaches of the river is called the Abbay in Ethiopia, where it is considered holy by many, and is believed to be the River Gihon mentioned as flowing out of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2.

Ethiopia enjoys 13 months of sunshine and is home to the Arc of the Covenant, rock-hewn churches, caves and monuments carved from a single stone that date back to the fourth century. It is also home to the Blue Nile which is one the longest flowing rivers and a thirst quencher to the Sudan and Egypt. Its  capital city, Addis Ababa, at an altitude of 8,000 feet, is the seat of the African Union, with the designation as being ‘the Capital City of Africa.’
Ethiopia is one of the most attractive destinations for tourists interested in nature, history and culture. It is safe and relatively cheap with daily direct flights from Washington, D.C., through Ethiopian Airlines. Unfortunately, the average person knows a ‘single story’ about Ethiopia regarding famine and war because of the unfair coverage of events by Western media.
The challenges Ethiopia faces are multifaceted: low life expectancy at birth (55 years for males and 58 years, female), high child mortality (123 out of 1,000 live births) and high prevalence of infectious diseases. Against all these odds, Ethiopia has recently embarked on a strong path of development with its economy registering more than 10 percent growth for the last five years, the second fastest in Africa. In fact, Ethiopia is poised to meet all components of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) set by the United Nations.
Thus, Ethiopia poses a great opportunity for the MUSC community in global health collaboration and outreach to attain and maintain the MDG. There are gaps in the areas of maternal mortality, heart disease, neurological and head-neck disorders.

  • Ethiopia is about twice the size of Texas with a population of more than 80 million
  • Located in East Africa
  • Origin of human species and coffee
  • The only African nation that has its own alphabet and numerals
  • Home to the hottest inhabited place on earth, Dallol
  • The only country in Africa that has never been colonialized by any foreign power

Clinician’s corner
An 8-year-old male recently adopted from Ethiopia presents with complaints of painless, gross hematuria. His examination was within normal limits. A urinalysis revealed >50 red blood cells and six to 10 white blood cells per high-powered field. A urine culture was negative. A complete blood count was significant for a normal hemoglobin and white blood cell count of 11,500 with an absolute eosinophil count of 3,700. Which of the following tests would most likely reveal the diagnosis?
A) Renal ultrasound       
B) Urine ova and parasite
C) Cystoscopy           
D) Stool ova and parasite

The correct answer is “B” urine ova and parasite, which is the recommended diagnostic test when Schistomoma hematobium is suspected.
Urinary schistosomiasis is a serious parasitic infection in the tropics and is especially common in Ethiopia. Patients usually present with painless, gross hematuria and eosinophilia. Identifying and treating urinary schistosomiasis is important to decrease the risk of complications such as obstructive uropathy and bladder carcinoma. Treatment with praziquantel usually results in resolution of symptoms as well as eradication of all stages of schistosomes.

Editor's note: The Global Health page focuses on raising awareness of international health issues through an academic venue with the purpose of improving the quality of care for patients. E-mail

Friday, May 7, 2010

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