Transforming Faces is facing the brain drain phenomenon in Ethiopia. One of the current gaps in care is the provision of speech therapy due to a lack of trained professionals.

When the Cleft Lip and Palate and Burn Unit at Yekatit 12 Hospital in Ethiopia was established, with the help of Norwegian aid, speech therapy became a recognized profession in Ethiopia.

Ethiopian plastic surgeons and Ethiopian speech therapists were being trained and the speech therapy training was being done on the job. Later, formal training with a Bachelor degree abroad in South Africa was introduced. 

For the bachelor training in South Africa, six Ethiopians enrolled and four graduated. Unfortunately, three of them left the country for different reasons.  Currently, there is one trained speech therapist in a country of approximately 80 million people.

In 2011, Partners in Africa in Cleft Training (PACT) and Yekatit 12 trained five assistant speech therapists – three from Ethiopia, one from Ghana and one from Nigeria. This project is coordinated by Seattle children’s Hospital and funded by Transforming Faces.

Currently, the speech therapy service at Yekatit 12 hospital, is co-ordinated by one speech therapist with support from assistant speech therapists. The assistant’s training is limited to cleft patients only, but there are many non-cleft patients who need speech therapy.

Non-communicable diseases have generally received inadequate attention on the global health agenda. A recent study conducted among 18 sub-Saharan African countries, including Ethiopia, found that speech and hearing services are severely under-resourced, understaffed, and equipment is outdated. Patients do not have access to the most basic hearing tests or speech and hearing rehabilitation.[1] 

Yekatit 12 currently provides therapy for 50 patients per year. As awareness has grown about the benefits of speech therapy, the demand has increased for this service. It is clear that a local speech therapy training program is necessary to meet the growing demand and to support the development of this new profession in Ethiopia. 

On a recent trip to visit Ethiopia, Transforming Faces took part in a stakeholders meeting to discuss a new speech therapy diploma program will be developed using a combination of local and expatriate speech-language therapy professionals. 

This program will start as a two-year diploma program, housed within an existing department of Addis Ababa University, with the eventual goal of establishing a full four-year degree program.

Following the meeting, the development of a curriculum for the program, to be housed in the College of Education of Addis Ababa University, began. The project has secured seed funding from the Norwegian government to support two workshops, which will facilitate curriculum development. Transforming Faces is currently funding an Ethiopian Speech Therapist to oversee and organize the curriculum development. The first workshop is slated for March. Stay tuned for more about this exciting new training opportunity!

[1] Fagan, Johan and Jacobs, Marian.  Survey of ENT services in Africa: Need for a comprehensive intervention. Global Health Action 2009.  Accessed on 24/08/2012 at: