Bridges for better health

ARSHO
Zelalem Fisseha Managing Director of ARSHO Medical Laboratories

Private health facilities across the country face many challenges and associations help create spaces for conversations that lead to solutions. Challenges varying from registering imported products to problems with customs are just some of the issues the Addis Ababa Private Health Facilities Employers Association attempts to solve. The Association held its General Assembly two weeks ago at  Hilton Hotel  where Capital’s Muluken Yewondwossen met Chairperson Zelalem Fisseha who is also the Managing Director of ARSHO Medical Laboratories and spoke with her regarding the association’s work since its establishment in 2014 and its plans for the future.

Capital: Tell us what the Association has accomplished in the last two years?

Zelalem Fisseha: Since the Addis Ababa Private Health Facilities Association was established it has been making a difference in policy advocacy.

For example, when the new health facility standard was approved, many health facilities found it challenging. So the Association served as a bridge by looking at both the government’s side and the challenges the private health facilities were facing. We provided a platform for discussions that enabled the government to see problems and make changes. The Association also provides trainings and raises awareness about health issues like Acute Watery Diarrhea (AWD). We also help import medical supplies which can be very challenging.  Around nine months ago, we organized a workshop to see how the process could be made easier.

Capital: Can you give us a picture of what happened at the workshop and what was achieved by it?

Zelalem: We are very proud of how many stakeholders participated. Representatives from the Food, Medicine and Health Care Administration and Control Authority (FMHACA), The Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority (ERCA), financial institutions, importers, and traders who buy those items and sell them to medical facilities all got involved. We think it was one of the most successful discussion platforms we ever organized.

We had a lot of support from the Ministry of Health which led to results. For example medical imports became a priority area that received foreign currency.  There is still a long way to go but this was a good first step.

Registering medical items when they enter Ethiopia takes a lot of time. The long process often discourages people from getting the medical equipment they need. At the conference we worked on this issue and came up with some steps to alleviate the problem.

We looked into things like acquiring permits, registering imported items, finding hard currency. We also talked about the process at customs and storage which at times can take so long that items expire before they reach the people who need them.

We also took at look at ERCA’s role with regard to medical imports. Often when medical equipment is imported spare parts come along with it. This was hard for ERCA to handle because their previous experience was primarily with spare parts for automobiles. Not everything is solved yet the discussion platforms we organized have started conversations that will lead to solutions.

In the near future, we are planning a training session for health professionals. We are doing this in cooperation with the Addis Ababa Health Bureau and FMHACA using funding from USAID. The main aim of the association is to have a middle body looking into what is going on in the sector, creating linkages between stakeholders and creating awareness in certain issues.

Capital: Are all health service facilities members of your association?

Zelalem: When we started, we only had around eight members now we have over 60. But as you know in Addis Ababa there are over 700 facilities that provide health services, so when you take that into consideration we have a proportionally low number of members. This is something that we need to create more awareness about; those in the sector need to believe that being a member of this association will benefit them. In other countries there are very strong associations with a lot of members including confederations in east, west and southern Africa; the same thing can happen here.

Capital: What does your international presence look like; do you communicate with other associations?

Zelalem: That is where we are heading now. We are preparing to become part of the East African Confederation. We don’t just want to join the East African Confederation; we want to go as far as initiating the establishment of an African wide association, why not?

We have the second largest population in Africa; it is a country that is expected to have a big capacity. So I don’t see a reason why we can’t achieve that.

Capital: What are your plans for this year and how does your financial situation look like?

Zelalem: We plan on doing more on policy advocacy; not just through our association but also inviting others; hospital associations, clinic associations as well as health professional associations, to join in the conversation and work together.

There are more things we will be doing with the Addis Ababa Health Bureau. Earlier we had held workshops and trainings to discuss and create awareness about health facility standards, and now, there is a new quality standard.

We believe that before actually starting the work, there needs to be awareness creation and we are the ones who can do that for our members. We also make sure that all the questions and comments of our members reach the government. And we will work strongly on increasing our membership.