Continued community health extension workers funding key to transforming young women’s lives in Ethiopia

William Rudgard

DSPI researcher Dr Will Rudgard has advocated continued government investment in female health visitors in Ethiopia to carry on ‘transforming the lives’ of young women in the country.

Will, a postdoctoral researcher, is among authors of an article into the impact of a wide-ranging health extension programme in the east African country.

He said work, often routine visits, by female health extension workers had been important in promoting health and providing services in sometimes remote villages, and could be linked to:

  • Higher school attendance among teenage girls
  • Better literacy and numeracy, and 
  • Fewer early marriages and pregnancies

Will, along with Lucie Cluver, Professor of Child and Family Social Work, Associate Members Dr Rachel Yates and Dr Elona Toska, and Silinganisiwe Dzumbunu, a PhD student at the University of Cape Town, are among authors of a Journal of Adolescent Health article – ‘Multiple Impacts of Ethiopia’s Health Extension Programme on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing’

'Boom generation'


An estimated 21 million Ethiopians are aged 10-19 and Will said the findings in the article should highlight the Programme’s importance in supporting a ‘boom generation of adolescents’.

‘Since 2004, Ethiopia has seen a rapid drop in early teenage marriages and our research suggests the national Health Extension Programme may have contributed to this’, said Will. 

‘Continued investment is likely to consolidate this progress and help the country achieve the development goals linked to Sustainable Development. 

This is set against three major setbacks to preventing early marriage, including the Covid-19 pandemic, the Tigray war, and an ongoing devastating drought in the region.'

'Ethiopia has shown remarkable progress in reaching global development goals and we are working with policymakers to help them continue the huge strides made over the past two decades' - Dr Will Rudgard



The study evaluated the impact of the programme on a range of issues affecting the lives of young people, including health, gender-based violence, education, and employment, and is part of the Adolescent Accelerate Hub based in DSPI.

Will said the benefits for young girls were of strategic interest for the Ethiopian Government, which has released a new policy on Adolescent and Youth Health Strategy, as well as the UK Government, UNICEF, and the World Bank.

He said research for the article also highlighted areas of the Programme that may require strengthening, including knowledge of sexually transmitted infections.

The analysis used Young Lives Ethiopia cohort data between 2002 and 2013 and evaluated associations between household support from the Health Extension Programme and 12 indicators of adolescent health and wellbeing.