Former St. Paul’s Hospital CEO named to lead global center for women’s health

Maternal health champion Lia Tadesse selected as executive director of U-M’s Center for International Reproductive Health Training 

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — While an Obgyn resident in Ethiopia, Lia Tadesse saw too many women suffer and die simply because they didn’t have access to proper care. She vowed she’d pursue a path in Obgyn to help prevent such deaths in her home country.

Now, the former hospital executive will play a key role in improving maternal health in Ethiopia as the new executive director of the Center for International Reproductive Health Training (CIRHT) at the University of Michigan.

“I saw women die from preventable deaths and I knew I had to get involved with efforts to help stop it,” says Tadesse, M.D., M.H.A., who is known in Ethiopia as “Dr. Lia.”

“I am honored by the opportunity to lead a center that will play a critical role in saving lives and empowering women. Women are the anchors of their families and communities. Stronger, healthier women lead to more stable families and ultimately, a more productive country.”

CIRHT, based in the department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the U-M Health System, launched in 2014. In this first phase, the center is working with nine medical schools in Ethiopia to help integrate comprehensive reproductive health training for aspiring doctors, nurses and midwives. There are currently 5,922 medical students and interns, 266 Obgyn residents and 57 faculty under the program. This pre-service training helps to ensure that, even before graduation, providers have the knowledge, technical skills and insight to provide women with the full range of reproductive health services they need.

Women’s health continues to be a particularly urgent development issue in Ethiopia where the maternal mortality ratio is 420 for every 100,000 births, among the highest in the world. That compares to a maternal mortality ratio of 28 per 100,000 in the U.S., 8 per 100,000 in the U.K. and 3 per 100,000 in Norway. 

During the next five years, the Center aims to expand the program to other countries in Africa and Asia. Globally, reproductive health issues are a leading cause of poor health and death of women of childbearing age. As a result, women in developing countries disproportionately experience unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions and sexually transmitted infections leading to disability or death.

Tadesse has an extensive background in work improving women’s health. Most recently, she served as project director of the country’s Maternal and Child Survival Program implemented by Jhpiego, where she oversaw programs to improve the capacity of health facilities and skilled birth attendants to provide high- quality care to women and newborns. 

“Dr. Lia has devoted her entire career to improving the health and lives of women in Ethiopia,” says Timothy R. B. Johnson, M.D., Bates Professor and Chair of the U-M Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “We couldn’t be more pleased to have someone with her rich expertise in the field help lead our efforts to ensure women have access to high quality comprehensive reproductive health services. She will play a critical role in our institution’s efforts to reduce maternal deaths across the globe.”

Tadesse also served as the CEO of St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College in Addis Ababa Ethiopia between 2007 and 2010 (when it was known as St Paul’s General Specialized Hospital). St. Paul’s Hospital was the first site to begin working with U-M in 2012, adopting an integrated medical curriculum that includes comprehensive reproductive health training and pioneering a new approach in Ethiopia. As CIRHT expands its comprehensive pre-service reproductive health training to the eight other medical schools throughout the country, St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College is the Center of Excellence for this effort.

She was nominated for a “women of excellence” award by the Association of Women in Business in Ethiopia in 2014. See a video made in Ethiopia about her accomplishments here.

Tadesse’s other posts at St. Paul have included vice provost for academic programs and research services, vice provost for medical services and assistant professor in obstetrics and gynecology. 

Prior to coming to St. Paul, Tadesse was a senior obstetrician and gynecologist at the Federal Police Referral Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia  where she was  responsible for managing obstetric and gynecologic patients in maternity, labor and gynecology wards and  providing family planning and other reproductive health services.

“There have been many efforts to improve women’s health in Ethiopia but there are still significant gaps,” Tadesse said. “CIRHT will help fill some of those gaps by preparing future doctors, nurses and midwives to care for girls and women and save lives.” Tadesse says.

“Maternal mortality is too high in Ethiopia and most deaths are preventable. Improving reproductive health services is a critical part of the foundation of our country. If we are able to integrate comprehensive reproductive health services for students so they can be skilled, competent and compassionate health givers, we can make a monumental impact on improving access to quality care throughout Ethiopia and the region.”