An International Consultative Meeting Took Place concerning the development of occupational therapy in Ethiopia

The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program (MCFSP) office at Queen’s University hosted a visit with top stakeholders from the University of Gondar and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in Kingston, Canada. The purpose of this visit was to learn about the profession of occupational therapy in the Canadian context, discuss the development of occupational therapy in Ethiopia, and discuss howexperiences from the Canadian context could be applied to Ethiopia in order to strengthen the rehabilitation system of the country and provide employment opportunities for occupational therapists in Ethiopia. Those who took part in the milestone visit included Dr. Asrat Atsedeweyn, President of the University of Gondar; Ambassador Fitsum Arega, Ethiopian Ambassador to Canada; Dr. Samuel Kifle, Ministry of Education State Minister; Dr. Mekuria Haile, Commissioner of the Civil Service Commission; Dr. Abas Hassen, Director for Clinical Services Directorate of the Ministry of Health; Daniel Hailu and Ashely Collier, Mastercard Foundation representatives; Dr. Molalign Belay and Dr. Heather Aldersey,co-directors of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at the University of Gondar and Queen’s University; and other top delegates from the University of Gondar and Queen’s University. These meetings were led byoccupational therapists from Queen’s University and the Kingston Community.

The MCFSP at the University of Gondar and Queen’s University, which is in its sixth year, has been able to transform the lives of many individuals and has helped shape the country for the better. Throughout the last six years, this partnership between these academic institutions has led to the development of the first occupational therapy education program in Ethiopia, at the University of Gondar. This program is accredited by the World Federation of Occupational Therapists, with Ethiopia being recently admitted as a full member of the World Federation of Occupational Therapists.Within the next two years the University of Gondar will graduate their first cohort of Ethiopian trained occupational therapists. In preparation for the future of the profession, Queen’s University MCFSP hosted this high-level delegation in order to observe occupational therapy practice in a Canadian context, conceptualize the scope and practice of occupational therapy, and highlight the importance of government policy to support future employment opportunities for occupational therapists in Ethiopia.

Occupational therapy is a holistic profession, in the health science field, that supports individuals to gain independence and function in all facets of their lives. People of all ages and all abilities who are experiencing obstacles that interfere with their emotional, social, and physical well-being can benefit from occupational therapy.

The delegation’s visit to Kingston and Queen’s University included engaging in site visits to learn about occupational therapy from practicing occupational therapists in an acute-care hospital, community-basedhealth centers, rehabilitation centers, mental health programs, vocational centers, and children treatment centers. These site visits highlighted the value of occupational therapists in a wide range of settings and demonstrated the broad scope and skills that occupational therapists can bring to the health sector. The delegation visited a wheelchair manufacturing facility where they were able to see first-hand how wheelchairs and mobility devices are created. The delegation also engaged in meetings and discussions with the president of the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists, the College of Occupational Therapists of Ontario, and MCFSP Ph.D. and occupational therapy fellows to further enhance their understanding and surrounding supports for the profession. The visit culminated in a robust discussion with all delegates, where they reflected on their key take aways from the visit, and how the different stakeholders and institutions can collaborate to support the growth of the profession in the Ethiopian context. The discussion resulted in a wide variety of commitmentsand strategies proposed by the government officials and the University of Gondar.

Dr. Molalign Belay who is the Co-Director of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at the University of Gondar expressed his optimism about the future of OT in Ethiopia.
“The visit we made to Canada, particularly to Queens University is historic and important to strengthening Occupational Therapy in Ethiopia,” shared Dr. Molalign. “The delegation which consists of higher officials of the FDRE who are policy and decision-makers in healthcare, education, and employability have a decisive role in ensuring inclusive healthcare and educational policy and practice in the country of Ethiopia where we see the field blossoming.”

According to Dr. Asrat Atsedeweyn, the President of the University of Gondar, it has become abundantly clear that the Occupational Therapy discipline will steadily increase and make a difference in the lives of ordinary citizens.

“Our MSc-level trained Occupational Therapists are coming back to their country of Ethiopia and are increasing the number of certified Occupational Therapist year by year,” shared Dr. Asrat. “These 16 Masters of OT fellows are our future leaders; rehabilitation science experts and ambassadors of a more inclusive Ethiopia and we are seeing them return to Ethiopia and contribute so much.”

Both Ethiopia and UoG have doubled their highly trained OT workforce in the country and have without a doubt given citizens something to hope for. In countries like Ethiopia where it is estimated that 18 percent of the population live with a disability, the development of crucial rehabilitation sciences and clinical services will be of paramount importance.

With over 17 million people in the country having some form of disability, the demand for occupational therapists will undoubtedly rise dramatically in the years to come. Ethiopians will have the possibility to improve their quality of life as the country now begins to promote the holistic profession of occupational therapy that aims to provide service to all people. The occupational therapists who are currently being trained at home and abroad have a huge duty to advance the profession of occupational therapy while also working to support their communities. There are presently numerous BSc students enrolled in the new program at the University of Gondar and many more studying for their MSc degrees in Canada. Therefore, as the profession grows and succeeds, more and more specialists will be trained to improve the lives of all Ethiopians.

In his closing remarks, Dr. Molalign alluded to the responsibilities that the respective institutions have to uphold and their commitment to the field.

“We believe that partnership is all about people’s fruitful relationships that allow us to create a large family of scholars, staff members, stakeholders, and interested parties by expanding our social network and sharing the impact of our program,” stressed Dr. Molalign. “We, Ethiopians, say, “Dir BiyabirAnbesa Yasir” which literary means ‘when a spider web unites, it can tie up a lion,’ Therefore, we will continue bringing stakeholders together and keeping connected for more collective action and a better future for all of us.”