What Does a Big Gift to the University of Michigan Have to Do With Ethiopia?

This is interesting: The University of Michigan just got $25 million from an anonymous donor and is going to improve healthcare in Africa. The money is earmarked for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology’s new Center for International and Reproductive Training. The center plans to begin training doctors, nurses and midwives in Africa in an effort to increase the number of reproductive healthcare workers available to women living in rural and remote areas of the continent.

A big component of the program will be comprehensive family planning training. The university will begin working in Director Senait Fisseha’s home country of Ethiopia.

Dr. Fisseha began building a partnership with St. Paul Hospital Millennium Medical College in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, back in 2012 with the goal of integrating family planning into its medical education program. Building on that partnership, part of the $25 million gift will help to expand St. Paul’s comprehensive reproductive health and family planning training program. From there, the university hopes to grow the program to seven more medical schools throughout Ethiopia.

The decision to kick off the program in Ethiopia isn’t merely due to Dr. Fisseha’s personal and professional ties to the country. The country has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world at approximately 420 for every 100,000 births. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the country’s former health minister (now serving as Ethiopia’s foreign minister) also had a hand in U of M coming to Ethiopia. A few years ago, Dr. Tedros was so impressed with the work the university has been doing in Ghana for the past 30 years, which includes the Ghana Emergency Medicine Collaborative that he decided to visit U of M to see if a similar program could find success in Ethiopia.

The $25 million gift is counted toward the $4 billion Victors for Michigan Campaign.

One lesson from this story is that universities can definitely get in on the big river of U.S. philanthropic dollars flowing into global health and development. Assuming, that is, universities can bring something important to the life-and-death fights underway in poor countries. With the capacity to train health workers, U of M has an important role to play in curbing maternal deaths—and now, it also has some serious money to advance this work.