Even though he is a new Christian, the Holy Spirit has been working in Dr. Desta for many years. "I have seen the unseen hands of God intervening in all my life. I was born, grew up, and spent most of my life in Ethiopia, which I believe is not by accident, but by divine plan," he explains. "In addition, I studied medicine and pediatrics for tropical areas, which is also from God. As a student in college, my ambition was to become an academician and a professor of medicine. I am now working in Ethiopia where God wants me to be."
After becoming a Christian, God’s plan for Dr. Desta’s life began to unfold. He became involved in every mission opportunity available. He got involved in a local church, he was a leader in Health Workers Christian Fellowship, and he became a member of Ethiopian Christian Medical and Dental Association. "I used to organize street evangelism, tract distribution and youth retreats with great passion, and we had excellent results in terms of soul-winning and discipleship," he remembers.
Only recently has the call become even more clear. "It is only four years since I came to understand that God wants me to do specific works with a focus on education and health care of the church and of the world community," he says. "Currently, my call is very clear to me, and it is serving the person holistically."
Realizing God’s call on his life has been a wonderful experience for Dr. Desta. But for those colleagues he left behind, they are finding it difficult to understand. "Choosing to work full-time in the needy areas looks a bit odd for a person like me," Dr. Desta says. "I was a practicing pediatrician in a big hospital with a private business with consultancy work. As expected, most of my colleagues were not happy with my choice and decision. Their reactions were that of rejection, criticism, silence, rumors, misunderstandings and speculations."
"What they didn’t know was that I was responding to a calling I’ve had in me for years," he says. "I had no personal income. Rather, I stayed at home praying, writing down my vision, visiting the communities, and organizing and conducting medical mission trips with my local church."
After living with no income for over a year, the Luke Society heard of Dr. Desta and came to Addis Ababa for an interview. It was evident that God wants Dr. Desta to reach out to the needy areas in Ethiopia, and a ministry partnership was formed and Social and Health Reform International (SOHRI) was founded.
When negotiations to use a government building did not materialize, Dr. Desta rented and renovated another facility in a poor district of the capitol known as Bole. The new staff went to work immediately, having a five-day community health training with 30 participants. They also went on a two-day medical mission trip to Kuriftu, where 600 adults and children received medical care. "The team prayed for the town, and many were evangelized and counseled," Dr. Desta reported.
The development of this ministry in a poor area of the capitol has made Dr. Desta understand more completely the desperate situation of health care in Ethiopia. "According to the National Health Sector Development Program (NHSDP), in order to cope with the public demand, Addis Ababa should be operating with a minimum of one health center and five satellite health posts serving 25,000, a district hospital serving 250,000, and a zonal hospital serving 1,000,000 respectively," he explains. "According to the Federal Ministry of the Health Sector Strategic Plan III, the number of health facilities currently planned or available is not compatible with the above requirements."
Through a recent study, it was found that people living in Addis Ababa are vulnerable to poor health. The infant mortality rate is 61 per 1,000 live births, and the under five years mortality is 83 per 1,000. Childhood malnutrition is a problem, and a quarter of the population of children is stunted. DPT and measles vaccination rates are 78% and 71% respectively, and infectious diseases are among the major causes of morbidity and mortality.
Dr. Desta hopes that his ministry will make a dent in the negative numbers. "The promotion of health education, primary health services, and education in nutrition, hygiene practices, and immunization will improve the health situation of the community."