“If we set an example for what can be, then others will follow.”
-Dr. Ebba Ebba, Pediatrician, Founder, Gemini Healthcare Group
Children in Ethiopia face harsh realities. According to The World Health Organization (WHO), each year out of 2.8 million births, 118,000 newborns will die. A staggering 500,000 Ethiopian children won’t live to see their 5th birthday – 72% of those deaths occurring from preventable diseases. Of those that survive, only 36% of children attend primary or secondary school. Combined with the HIV/AIDS epidemic, many children are being left orphaned and in danger of exploitation.
A Doctor With A Mission
Dr. Ebba Ebba, a pediatrician in private practice from Jacksonville, Alabama, is hoping to change the dire circumstances surrounding Ethiopian children. Three years ago Dr. Ebba started Gemini Healthcare Group, a not-for-profit healthcare foundation. The first project, which is currently in progress, is to build Ethiopia’s first children’s hospital – Addis Children’s Hospital.
One might wonder why Dr. Ebba, who received a Medical Degree from Howard University College of Medicine and a Masters Degree in Public Health from the George Washington University School of Public Health, is undergoing such a laborious task. Dr. Ebba can simply choose to keep his private practice and live comfortably. However, that would not have challenged him and would have been contrary to the lessons instilled in him.
Dr. Ebba grew up in Ethiopia and had a sheltered childhood. He was surrounded by family, friends, and a close-knit community. His father was his earliest inspiration. Dr. Ebba recalls watching his father – known to share his wealth with those who were less fortunate – with “admiration and curiosity.” Years later Dr. Ebba still feels the impact that his father has left on him. “I realize the value of him reaching out to others.” Both his parents taught him early on that “we have a purpose not only to provide for ourselves and family but to others also.” For Dr. Ebba, the best way he could do that was by practicing medicine. “If we can prevent illnesses and poverty maybe we can give the children an opportunity to receive an education. How else will they take over?”
In high school Dr. Ebba was fascinated with and excelled in History and Math. At that time, his career goal was to become an Engineer or a History teacher. He finished high school in Ethiopia and came to New York in 1981. During college
Dr. Ebba stumbled upon the study of the sciences and pre-medicine by sheer accident. “However, I had very good support and mentoring from my professors at City College of New York that prepared me well for a career in medicine. Even though my interest in History was relegated to a hobby status, my desire to teach was getting primed.” He enjoyed tutoring Chemistry and Biology to underclassmen as well as General Educational Development (GED) classes. Dr. Ebba, whose hobbies include playing soccer and mentoring, believes that a person can make a big impact in any community if they take a young child and give them advice and direction.
Now a father of three, Dr. Ebba saw pediatrics as an intellectual challenge and therefore chose to study it. “I have the need and the desire to teach, and also to help kids and young adults so medicine was the perfect medium.” He describes being a pediatrician as a “rewarding” profession that also has its challenges such as dealing with the illnesses of a nonverbal child and social economic factors like parents who are divorced. As a pediatrician he has observed that while parents are not good patients, when it comes to their kids, they take extra precaution. He sees parents who may not necessarily take good care of themselves bring their children to see him. “I feel like I can make a difference with kids who have hope of getting better. Kids are non judgmental when you intervene and the pain goes away, they give you hugs.”
Addis Children’s Hospital to Provide Affordable Health Care Services
Addis Children’s Hospital, expected to open within 2-3 years, will be providing acute care services and will focus on preventing illnesses. With both combined, Dr. Ebba knows for sure that a strong, positive impact will be made. But there is no standard insurance and unless patients work for big corporations, they will have to come out of pocket.
Dr. Ebba is working to change this. “There are different business plans in the works to provide affordable health care services.” His organization hopes to subsidize funds from people who will pay for quality service in Ethiopia instead of going overseas. “No one will be turned away because of lack of funds.” If one dollar is all a person can afford, then that’s what they can expect to pay. “We will do whatever it takes to get the hospital up and running.” Thus far, the only thing left to do in opening the hospital is to raise funds and get an approval for its design and modification. “We have the land and the environmental impact study has been done.” The architectural design, made in the U.S., is also finished.
In a country where there is an estimated 6 million orphans, Dr. Ebba’s not-for-profit seeks to standardize adoption and provide space to help those who are orphaned and infected with HIV. “If we have everything under one roof then the resources to transport children for services will be eliminated. If we set an example for what can be, then others will follow.” There are also plans to raise funds for the development of a mobile pediatric unit. “We plan to use mobile clinics to teach the public about good health practices such as hygiene and nutrition.” The mobile clinic will also provide services to children who live outside of Addis Ababa. After training is done, it can take up to six months to be functional. “Mobile clinics are a temporary solution. Our hope is to teach and leave the locals inspired.”
On September 26, 2009, Gemini will hold its 2nd annual fundraising event in Washington, D.C. “Last year the event was held in Atlanta, this year we want to make it accessible to the larger Ethiopian community.” The purpose of the event is to increase awareness, recruit more partners and volunteers. “The idea may have started with one person but the torch cannot be carried by one person alone.” The keynote speaker for the evening will be Alfa Demmellash, co-founder and C.E.O. of Rising Tide Capital, and also named CNN Hero 2009. “Alfa has an inspiring story to tell about hard work, breaking barriers, and accomplishing goals.”
Building a hospital, especially in a country where the resources are limited, is no easy task. It requires patience, devotion, and generous help from the community at large. For that reason Dr. Ebba sends a message of service to all. “There is so much we have been given, instead of being cynical let us join hands and do something positive whether it is here or in Ethiopia.”
For more information visit www.ghcg.org, or contact Dr. Ebba at (404) 593-6446.