Healthy people and animals in Ethiopia thanks to an interdisciplinary project: Jigjiga University One Health Initiative

Project completed
African farmer ploughing a field with an ox.
Food insecurity and poverty are part of everyday life for farmers in eastern Ethiopia. © Pixabay/symbolic picture ©

Nomadic pastoralist communities, which constitute one tenth of Ethiopia’s population, have little access to health services. In the Jigjiga University One Health Initiative, the SDC is helping to establish local healthcare services by supporting an interdisciplinary centre of excellence at Jigjiga University in eastern Ethiopia.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Health systems strengthening
Primary health care
01.01.2015 - 31.03.2021
CHF  2’200’000

The majority of pastoralist communities are located in the Ethiopian Somali Regional State, a rural area in eastern Ethiopia and one of the poorest regions of the country. Although very remote, the rural areas of Ethiopia are economically very important, as they are home to 40% of the country’s livestock and to a considerable variety of natural resources. However, unsafe and scarce water, lack of sanitation, food insecurity and poverty are typical of the living conditions there.

Poor human and animal health

As their communities are underserved in terms of access to essential services, pastoralists suffer from health problems, some of which stem from the population’s close interaction with livestock, and others from poor sanitation and malnutrition. Infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and rabies, are transmitted between humans and animals, and spread by the herds. This jeopardises food security and threatens the very existence of the pastoralists.

Lack of access to essential services

The rural Ethiopian Somali Regional State lacks functioning infrastructure and health services for the pastoralists and their animals. There are not enough health centres for human and veterinary medicine and no qualified personnel. In addition, medical equipment is outdated, and there is a shortage of medicines. Despite some progress made in recent years, the population of the Somali region faces higher rates of morbidity and mortality than the national average. To improve their living conditions, pastoralists are in urgent need of access to health services that are tailored to their needs and the available resources.

Improved living conditions for pastoralist communities

With its support of the Jigjiga University One Health Initiative, the SDC is helping to improve the living conditions of nomadic pastoralist communities in the Horn of Africa. Following a Swiss analysis of the local health system, the Jigjiga University One Health Initiative was set up as a partnership between the SDC, the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and Jigjiga University (JJU). JJU is the only educational and research institution in the entire Ethiopian Somali Regional State, which has a population of five million. Around 10,000 students are currently enrolled at the university.

Centre of excellence for health

The interdisciplinary project aims to improve training for students of human and veterinary medicine, and subsequently to establish an interdisciplinary centre of excellence for health at the local university. Jigjiga University aims to become the health centre for pastoralist communities in the Horn of Africa, and eventually an attractive partner for neighbouring universities in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. Cooperation between the various educational and research institutions will foster long term the activities of the SDC and its partners in addressing health and food security-related issues.

The SDC works with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute to foster research into improving the health of nomadic pastoralist communities, and also supports the development of health services. Campaigns are conducted in local communities in order to enhance the pastoralists’ awareness of health issues.

The Jigjiga University One Health Initiative was officially launched on 25 October 2015 during a working visit to Ethiopia by the President of the Swiss confederation at the time, Simonetta Sommaruga. The project is due to run for 12 years. Around CHF 3 million has been budgeted for the first half of the project.