Growing up in New England, the highlight of spring was always the Boston Marathon. Whether we cheered the runners on from alongside the road or if we watched the event live on television, the experience always had a distinct allure. Bonded together with a singular purpose, beating their feet along the pavement with a steady rhythm, the runners were simply captivating.
In recent years, the race has been dominated by African competitors; since the 1990s, both the male and female winners have almost exclusively hailed from Kenya and Ethiopia. Nearly 7,000 miles away—or, more than 250 marathon-lengths—a different race recently brought together Americans and Africans with a common goal.
In recognition of our 50th Anniversary, USAID co-sponsored the EVERY ONE half-marathon in Awassa, Ethiopia, along with Save the Children and the Great Ethiopian Run, a local NGO founded by world marathon record-holder Haile Gebreselassie. The event sought to raise awareness about efforts to reduce maternal, newborn, and child deaths.
Seven thousand Ethiopians and international participants congregated on the Rift Valley Lake of Awassa to run and to greet elite runners from Kenya and Ethiopia including the Ethiopian winner of the 2010 New York Marathon, Gebregziabher Gebremariam. Local musicians and theater groups used their artistic talents to educate attendees about how public health workers support maternal and child health.
Every year in Ethiopia, about 19,000 women die due to pregnancy and childbirth-related complications, and thousands of women suffer from birth injuries. Nearly half a million Ethiopian children under five die every year. Of these, 120,000 die before they are one month old. Many of these injuries and deaths could be prevented with interventions that are currently available, effective, and often low-cost.
USAID supports the goals of the EVERY ONE campaign by expanding the reach of health extension workers, increasing access to delivery and emergency obstetric care, improving neonatal care and nutrition, and expanding access to voluntary family planning methods that enable birth spacing which can help strengthen the health of mothers and children. Last year, in the region of Ethiopia where the race was held, with USAID support:
- Health extension workers visited over one million households;
- Over 500,000 pregnant women received pre-natal care by a skilled service provider, and more than 700,000 new clients received voluntary family planning services;
- Over 80,000 pregnant women learned their HIV status, and nearly 300 received important medical therapy to prevent HIV transmission to their babies; and
- More than 50,000 orphaned and vulnerable children received specialized care.
Running alongside—or behind—Ethiopians in the race were U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Donald Booth, USAID/Ethiopia Mission Director Thomas Staal, and staff members from the U.S. Embassy, USAID, and the Peace Corps (which also celebrates its 50th anniversary this year). Thomas Staal said, “I am pleased that this year the EVERY ONE campaign has chosen to recognize the contribution of health workers to saving lives of mothers and children and to promoting the health of families and communities. However, success will depend on mutual respect, and the trust that comes from that mutual respect, between husbands and wives, neighbors and communities, and above all, between patients and health workers. It truly takes EVERY ONE to help mothers and children to survive and thrive.”
Fans from New England may protest, but this year, the EVERY ONE race in Ethiopia was the one that captivated me.