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Ethiopia Coronavirus Update | COVID-19 Coronavirus Updates in Ethiopia

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Ethiopia Coronavirus Update |Coronavirus-COVID-19 Updates in Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s borders are open, and there are restrictions in place for arrivals.

  • Passengers must have a medical certificate with a negative PCR COVID-19 test result that has been issued no more than 5 days prior to arrival, will be tested again upon arrival, and subject to 14 days mandatory self-isolation
  • If you do not have the required medical certificate, you will be quarantined for 7 days at a government-designated hotel, tested for COVID-19, and must self-isolate for an additional 7 days at home once a negative result is produced
  • Travellers can choose from a list of designated hotels that have been selected by authorities for quarantine, and costs are covered by passengers.

Effective 10th July, if you are flying with Emirates from the countries or airports specified below, you must carry a negative PCR certificate issued by a local government approved laboratory to be accepted on the flight. If the UAE government has specified a designated laboratory in your country of origin, you must get your test certificate from that lab. Certificates must be issued no more than 96 hours before departure:

  • Afghanistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Egypt
  • India
  • Iran
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
  • Philippines
  • Russian Federation
  • Sudan
  • Tanzania
  • USA – Dallas Fort Worth (DFW), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and Orlando (MCO), including passengers originating from California, Florida and Texas connecting to an Emirates flight from any of our airports worldwide to Dubai.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, Ethiopia has joined the list of countries that have introduced travel restrictions that affect who can enter the region.

The temporary entry restrictions are intended to help contain the virus and stop it from spreading.

See below the measures Ethiopia has taken to control the COVID-19 outbreak and flatten the curve in the East African state.

What Travel Restrictions Has Ethiopia Introduced?

Ethiopia began implementing travel restrictions in March 2020, after the first cases of COVID-19 in the country had been reported. The steps taken affect transport to the country and outline quarantine procedures for passengers arriving by air.

The first known case of coronavirus in Ethiopia was announced on March 13, with 5 more cases being discovered within a week of this.

The first restrictions of travel were announced on March 20. Further measures were taken as the outbreak progressed.

Can I Still Fly to Ethiopia?

Ethiopia introduced entry restrictions on flights on March 20, 2020 by suspending flights run by the state carrier Ethiopian Airlines (the biggest airline in Africa) to 30 countries.

This suspension was extended to over 80 countries on March 29.

Some other airlines may still operate flights to Ethiopia, depending on the current policy of the airline and the country of origin. Travelers who choose to fly to the country will have to abide by the quarantine regulations that are now in place.

As usual, foreign nationals should obtain the relevant visa before traveling to the country, such as an Ethiopia tourist visa or business visa.

Coronavirus Quarantine Procedures in Ethiopia

Since March 23, there has been an obligatory quarantine procedure for all passengers arriving in the country.

International travelers must spend a minimum of 14 days in isolation at the Ethiopian Skylight Hotel. This is paid for at their own expense.

The 14-day period does not apply to passengers transiting through Ethiopia. Individuals in this situation must stay at the Ethiopian Skylight Hotel only until catching their onward flight.

Diplomats are another exceptional case. They must complete a 14-day quarantine, but this will be undertaken at the embassy of their country in Ethiopia.

Are Ethiopia’s Borders Open?

All land borders have been closed to travelers, with very few exceptions. Security forces were deployed to the border to enforce this measure. This has made entering the country much more difficult. The hope is that these steps will reduce the number of new COVID-19 cases.

Measures Against COVID-19 in Ethiopia

Ethiopia has taken a number of steps against the coronavirus within the country itself.

Schools were closed, sporting events were canceled, and public gatherings were banned on March 16, 2020.

On April 8, a state of emergency was declared, which is expected to last for 5 months.

Various regions of Ethiopia have taken further measures. The following regions have implemented lockdowns and travel restrictions on public transportation:

  • Amhara
  • Oromia
  • Tigray
  • Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region
  • Benishangul Gumuz
  • Afar
  • Somali
  • Gambela

Oromia has suspended all cross-country and inter-city public transportation.

Tigray has temporarily banned all travel and public activity as well as closing all cafés and restaurants.

General Travel Advisory for Ethiopia

Outside of travel restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic, there are certain parts of Ethiopia that visitors are advised to avoid due to sporadic civil unrest, communications disruptions, crime, and conflict.

These areas tend to be border regions, such as the border with Somalia as well as the Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, and Eritrea frontiers.

Other regions where foreign travelers should be careful when visiting are:

  • Somali Regional State
  • Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR)
  • The East Hararge region and the Guji zone of Oromia State
  • Benishangul Gumuz and the western part of Oromia State

The rest of Ethiopia is generally considered safe for foreign nationals.

As with visiting any country, it is advisable for all travelers to be vigilant of their surroundings and take care of their personal belongings.

General Entry Restrictions for Ethiopia

Under normal circumstances, only nationals of 2 neighboring countries may enter Ethiopia without a visa. Travelers from all other nations must obtain a visa in order to visit.

The Ethiopia online visa (also known as the Electronic Visa or eVisa for Ethiopia) is available to the majority of travelers.

The eVisa is quick and easy to acquire by completing a simple Ethiopia online visa application form, which takes a matter of minutes to fill in. This accessibility eliminates the need to go to an embassy to apply for a visa, which takes longer to process than the online option.

Find out who is eligible for an eVisa by checking the Ethiopia visa requirements.

Foreign nationals who obtain the necessary travel documents will be able to enter the country.

How has Ethiopia responded to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak? Find out about local measures and travel restrictions.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) travel restrictions in Ethiopia – updated 29 June 2020

Travellers arriving in Ethiopia will be subject to COVID-19 medical screening upon arrival.

  • If you do not have a medical certificate with a negative PCR COVID-19 test result that is less than 72 hours old, you will be quarantined for 7 days in government-designated facilities, tested, and then required to self-isolate for an additional 7 days at home
  • If you do carry a negative PCR test result, you must undergo 7 days of mandatory self-quarantine at home after providing a sample upon arrival
  • Contact your airline to see if there are further requirements onboard a flight to Ethiopia. Ethiopia Airlines has a detailed list of entry requirements and procedures in place
  • The quarantine will be in hotels designated by the local authorities, and costs are covered by passengers.

A nationwide state of emergency was declared on 8 April, and will remain in place until 8 September. Restrictions include a ban on gatherings of more than three people, reduction of public transport, and it is mandatory to wear face masks in public.

The state of emergency restrictions in Tigray region have been relaxed after extensive door-to-door coronavirus (COVID-19) testing. Different regions may have different requirements, so follow the advice of authorities, who are enforcing these measures.

In an attempt to reduce the spread of pandemic coronavirus, Ethiopian Airlines has suspended flights to 30 countries, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia said.

In a televised message today, Prime Minister Abiy indicated that the decision is made to stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). He also stated that to avoid suffocations, which help the virus to spread quickly, all nights clubs in the capital, Addis Ababa will also be closed as of today. He also indicated that his government has discussed with religious leaders in the country to avoid crowded religious practices that can also spread the virus. The government has also decided that all other passengers coming to Ethiopia will be subject to a 14-day quarantine period in designated hotels at their own personal cost.

Prime Minister Aby has also stated that the first shipment of testing kits, masks and guidelines contributed by Jack Ma through Alibaba will arrive on Sunday, March 22 2020, according to the statement issued by the Offcie of the Prime Minister this afternoon.

“In this regard the committee is working on the distribution within the country as well as the intended African countries. It is also indicated that Correction facilities to expand and utilize other holding spaces in order to avoid overcrowding. Additionally, new prisoners to be tested for COVID-19 before confinement to correctional facilities. While visits have been temporarily halted, prisoners with minor offenses and release dates that are near will be released from imprisonment,” it said.

Reacting to the latest report, the statement also said, “Harassment of foreign nationals is not acceptable and un-Ethiopian. The public to understand clearly that the virus does not discriminate and therefore undertake prevention measure per the Ministry of Health Guidelines rather than assign blame and ostracize foreign nationals.”

In a related \development, Tewolde GebreMariam, CEO of Ethiopian Airlines Group indicated that twenty countries have already blocked Ethiopian Airlines from flying to their countries to stop the spread of COVID-19. Speaking with the state broadcaster – ETV, he noted that the countries that banned Ethiopian Airlines include several African countries, Saudi Arabia and the like.

The CEO stated that as a result, Ethiopian Airlines flights have declined by 25 to 30 percent. “We have lost over $190 million,” Mr. Tewolde said. It is recalled that the UN Economic Commission for Africa has recently estimated that Ethiopian Airlines may loss up to 260 million as a result of flight disruptions caused following coronavirus and if the situation is not changed. Before the coronavirus outbreak, Ethiopian Airlines, one of the highly profitable African aviation company has been flying to around 110 destinations across the globe.

In Ethiopia so far nine people are identified COVID-19 positive. But there is no death report as a result of the global pandemic. Globally over 10,000 people have died while some 210,000 have been infected by the virus.

The flights Ethiopian Airlines suspended today include the following,
• ET’s flights to Bahrain are suspended with immediate effect for 14 days
• ET’s flights to/from Khartoum suspended as of 16th March for 14 days
• ET’s flights to Cairo suspended between 19th – 30th March
• ET’s flights to Washington and Chicago will now be going via Lome and not Dublin.
• Flights to Djibouti suspended effective 18th March until further notice
• ET’s flights to Kuwait suspended as of 13th March until further notice
• ET’s flights to Beirut suspended as of 18th March until 29th March
• ET’s Europe Flights: Paris, Stockholm, Brussels, Frankfurt, London, Vienna flights will continue, however, only citizens, permanent residents, and other approved travelers will be allowed to board. All travelers with tourist and business visas will not be allowed to board these flights.

Ethiopian Airlines late on Thursday denied reports it had suspended all flights to China, where an outbreak of coronavirus has killed at least 170 people.

The airline, Africa’s most profitable, is the main gateway between China and Africa and suspension of its service would significantly disrupt air travel. The carrier runs six flights to China daily across five Chinese destinations.

A statement issued by the airline said all flights were operating normally, contradicting the carrier’s passenger call centre that had told Reuters earlier in the day that flights to the Asian country had been suspended.

“We are operating our regular flights to all of our five gateways in China, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Hong Kong with the usual supply and demand adjustment that we always make during the Chinese New Year Holidays,” read the statement.

The novel coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate several countries across the world — the latest count is 5,792,907 cases and more than 357,480 deaths.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to the revival of trade unions in UK but there’s chaos and devastation in care homes in Russia, that account for a large number of Covid-19 deaths. Meanwhile, how has Ethiopia managed to beat the pandemic without a lockdown and ventilators and why did Twitter finally fact check Trump.

ThePrint brings you the most important global stories on the coronavirus pandemic and why they matter. 

Pandemic provokes revival of trade unions

As the coronavirus pandemic has heightened anxiety over job security among workers, trade unions are witnessing a revival in countries like the UK, reports the Financial Times.

“UK trade unions are reporting a stream of new members since the start of the coronavirus lockdown, reflecting increased anxiety over workplace safety and the risk of redundancies,” notes the report.

“The heightened imperative to ensure safety at work provoked by the pandemic — after years in which ministers have viewed health and safety inspections as a burden to be minimised — has given unions a new-found influence in talks with the government over the reopening of schools and other key sectors of the economy,” it adds.

Ethiopia on Friday relaxed a number of COVID-19 emergency preventative measures, including shortening a mandatory 14-day quarantine of arrivals from abroad.

Passengers from abroad who hold COVID-19 negative certificates are mandated to isolate themselves for only three days after giving samples and stay for 14 days at home before joining the community, local broadcaster FANA quoted Health Minister Liya Kebede as saying.

Families of COVID-19 victims can now arrange funerals, but the number of people allowed to attend burials remains at 15, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

The Horn of Africa country has so far confirmed 4,070 coronavirus cases, 72 deaths, and 1,027 recoveries.

Pick-up the phone in Ethiopia these days and you are greeted not by a ringtone but with a jingle urging the benefits of handwashing, social distancing and face masks. Churches and mosques are closed, with services conducted electronically. According to officials, community health workers have screened an astonishing 40m people in 11m households, verifying their travel history and conducting routine temperature checks.  Authorities have readied quarantine places for 50,000 people and 15,000 beds in isolation centres. Most of these have not been needed. For whatever reasons, Ethiopia has, thus far, avoided the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. According to official data, the east African country of 110m people, the continent’s second most populous, has recorded just 731cases of Covid-19 and six Covid-related deaths. True, the number has shot up in recent days, perhaps as a consequence of ramped-up testing or a sign that community transmission is gathering pace.

True, too, that not everyone will believe figures from a state with a history of authoritarian control, including of data. Yet there is little clear evidence of widespread outbreaks unaccounted for in official numbers, and even if the number of deaths were many times the state-sanctioned figure, they would still be small. The UK, a country with a little over half Ethiopia’s population, has recorded about 6,000 times more deaths.  Ethiopia’s technocratic government decided it could not afford a rich-country response to the virus. Though its economy has grown rapidly in recent decades, Ethiopia remains a poor country with a per capita income — adjusted for prices — of just $2,500. When the pandemic began, it had 22 ventilators dedicated to Covid.  Arkebe Oqubay, senior minister and special adviser to the prime minister, says the government concluded early it could not afford a lockdown that would be difficult to enforce and socially costly. Nor did it immediately stop direct flights from China, a stance for which it was much criticised. Instead, temperature checks were imposed at the international airport. Its first case came from Japan, he says, with later imported infections mainly from Europe. Instead of strict lockdown, Ethiopia chose a response built around public messaging. “This is not a disease you fight by ventilators or intensive care units,” says Mr Arkebe, “90 per cent of the solution is hand washing and social distancing. The only way we can play and win is if we focus on prevention.”

Recommended Coronavirus: free to read Exiting lockdowns: tracking governments’ changing coronavirus responses The government has leaned heavily on a community-based health system built by Meles Zenawi, prime minister until his death in 2012, and his health minister, one Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, now director-general of the World Health Organization. Shunning flashy hospitals, Ethiopia has instead poured what money it can into basic healthcare: vaccination campaigns and child and maternal support.  One should not exaggerate. Ethiopia’s life expectancy is still a modest 66, even if that is 15 years higher than it was two decades ago. Nor can actions taken by the government account entirely for the low coronavirus death toll. “In some respects, the government has responded efficiently,” acknowledges William Davison, a senior analyst for the Crisis Group. “But that doesn’t seem to be a sufficient explanation for the low rates of infection. There are a bunch of other factors.”  Not least of these is the fact that coronavirus has, at least so far, taken a milder form in Africa. There are only about 3,600 recorded deaths in a continent of 1.2bn people, a very low total even accounting for possible under-reporting. This owes partly to an effective and early response from many governments all too familiar with the impact of infectious diseases. It may also be linked to Africa’s relative isolation. Other factors have probably played in Africa’s favour, most plausibly its young population, with a median age of just 19.4.  Editor’s note The Financial Times is making key coronavirus coverage free to read to help everyone stay informed. Find the latest here. Public health officials are rightly cautious, fearing an upsurge in cases should governments relax. Yet even the WHO has conceded that the pandemic appears to be taking a “different pathway” in Africa. None of this means Ethiopia can breathe easily. There could yet be a sharp increase in cases. And even if the health impact proves less severe than feared, the economic effects are likely to be far-reaching. An economic downturn could spill over into a political crisis.

Ethiopian elections due in August have been postponed because of the pandemic. A state of emergency has been imposed. There is intense pushback against the central government from the mosaic of ethnically constructed states. Still, at a time when the world is trying to figure out which national responses have worked and which have failed, tentative judgments have to be made. For the moment at least, Ethiopia seems to be winning.

Ethiopia has declared a state of emergency to halt the spread of COVID-19 in Africa’s second-most populous country, home to around 110m people.

“Because the coronavirus pandemic is getting worse, the Ethiopian government has decided to declare a state of emergency under Article 93 of the constitution,” prime minister Abiy Ahmed said in a statement.

“I call upon everybody to stand in line with government bodies and others that are trying to overcome this problem,” he added, warning of “grave legal measures” against anyone who undermines the fight against the pandemic.

Ethiopia today has 56 confirmed cases and two deaths.

Though the government had refrained from imposing a lockdown similar to other countries in the region, the prime minister had warned that the virus would spread easily among the population due to the lack of preventative health measures and the challenges associated with social distancing.

When schools across Ethiopia closed on 16 March to help contain COVID-19, many families found themselves wondering how to keep their children’s education on track. Literally overnight, some 26 million school children[1] were no longer attending school.

Sisay Yilma, a father of six, found it difficult to manage his children’s time when six of them started staying home every day.

Following the school closures, the government developed a Distance Learning Plan, with support from UNICEF, Save the Children and other education partners to assist children to learn remotely through TV, radio and digital platforms.

Despite encountering several challenges in developing and broadcasting distance education lessons, the Ministry of Education and 10 Regional Education Bureaus have started the broadcasts. UNICEF is providing financial support targeting an estimated 5.1 million primary and secondary school children. In addition, with other partners, UNICEF plans to support education authorities in the regions to reach six million children with home-based distance education during COVID-19. Donors like Education Cannot Wait are supporting this effort.

UNICEF also helped the government to develop a quality assurance framework for radio learning and is supporting education partners in selecting and developing content across different grades and subjects.

The Addis Ababa Education Bureau was one of the first to implement distance education by calling on all partners in the education sector to support the initiative, with a view to minimizing the impact of school closures on children’s education.

Television and radio lessons are broadcast throughout Addis Ababa and digital platforms have been established to facilitate access to educational content and a learning management system. While radio education is for children in grades 1 to 6 focusing on six subjects, the TV education lessons are for students in grades 7 to 12.

The Addis Ababa Bureau has partnered with AfriHealth, a TV station, which has a wide coverage and is expected to reach households across the country and not just in Addis Ababa. The programme motivates learners to respond to questions using SMS and the learners are given an award for their efforts. UNICEF provided financial support to Addis Ababa education authorities towards the cost of the distance education plan as well as advice on how best to engage children and families for effective learning.

“Now that school is closed, it is really important that we get educated while staying at home,” says SiheneMaria.

Her parents understand that they need to support their children to continue their education. A humble father, Ato Sisay says “I am not supporting them to study, it is their elder sister who is helping them, but we have agreed together that they will use the television for learning when the lessons are on”.

UNICEF’s coronavirus guide for parents recommends establishing a routine that factors in age-appropriate education programmes to help keep children’s education on track.

Sihinemariam Sisay’s family used to follow the education programme using a small-size television set and their efforts were noticed by the Addis Ababa Education Bureau. The Deputy Mayor of Addis Ababa, Takele Uma, rewarded them with an LCD TV to help the family with their education. To encourage the children to follow the TV and radio lessons, the Bureau established a reward mechanism for children who respond to the questions. Some 41 students who participated won laptops and parents who encouraged and supported their children received a television set.

Lessons are broadcast in English and Afaan Oromo, which are used as the medium of instruction for grades 7 to 12. Each session is broadcast for 30 minutes in six core subjects. Sihinemariam, however, says the education she gets on TV is not enough.

“I get only 30 minutes every day. When other classes and languages are in session, I will read books and notes on Telegram, or go over previous grade 12 exams,” she says. “If I were in school, I would be attending up to 10 classes of 45 minutes’ each and learning different subjects every day.”

Challenges also exist around children not having adequate technology, internet connectivity, and electricity. “Sometimes, I would eagerly follow a class and then the electricity goes off.”

The closure of schools has also denied children of access to school meals, recreational programmes, co-curricular activities, and pedagogical support by teachers. Sihinemariam misses her friends, “I realize it was not only for the education that we went to school; it was through my friends and peers that I understood some lessons better. I enjoyed playing with them and studying and solving questions together,” she says.

Distance education is not guaranteed throughout the country, especially for the most vulnerable. While 42 per cent and 61 per cent of urban households have access to radio and TV channels respectively, the proportion among rural households is as low as 29 per cent and 11 per cent for radio and TV respectively.[2] Providing content to low-income children, those at risk of exclusion, those without internet access, children with disabilities, as well as refugee and displaced children, has taken on added priority. With funding from the UK’s Department for International Development, UNICEF and partners are investing in more than 20,000 solar radios and digital devices to be provided to vulnerable children including refugees and IDPs.

Guaranteeing the right to education for every child requires a partnership between different players at different levels. These partners have and will continue to work together to develop distance learning modalities that include online, radio and television content, reading materials and guided homework. More funding is required to expand the reach, including the procurement of additional solar radios. Simultaneously, UNICEF and partners will continue to work with the Ministry of Education on a plan for safe reopening of schools.

Higher education has been considered the prime source of knowledge and innovation and driver of development, and this is regardless of the economic, political and social status of a country. However, in most developing countries the contribution of higher education has often been associated with producing skilled human resources.

Higher education institutions are also required to actively engage in relevant research and community services which are part of their core missions. In Ethiopia, this has been clearly stated in the Higher Education Proclamation and the senate legislations of at least all public universities.

As the primary organisations charged with studying social issues, higher education institutions are also responsible for addressing society’s practical problems. In principle, their social responsibility emanates from, and focuses on, the university’s broader missions. These clearly indicate that the practice of social responsibility is not the concern of only corporates or industries but also higher education institutions.

University social responsibility

Studies indicate that the higher education sector in Ethiopia has significantly contributed to the social and political development of the country. However, for different reasons, this has been decreased in the last three decades. Government’s current strategic and policy documents clearly indicate that ensuring food security, poverty alleviation and improving quality of education are the major national problems that must be addressed.

Furthermore, society is suffering significantly from poor governance and political turmoil. In such a context, society expects a lot from universities which held a prestigious position at the heart of society in the 1960s and 1970s, especially because of the decisive role they played in overthrowing the imperial regime.

Erosion of trust

However, our recent study (Social Responsibilities in Higher Education: The case of Ethiopia, Adamu and Cremonini, in press) indicates that universities’ contribution to addressing the major national challenges and problems is deficient and, as a result, society’s trust in universities has eroded over time.

The study also identifies that, among others, the following issues are the main factors for the eroded societal trust in universities: “Failure to produce enough graduates who are highly skilled, competent and ethical; silence during difficult times such as political unrest; inability to resolve some of the most prominent real-life problems affecting Ethiopians such as plant pathogenesis; and incapacity to solve problems of their own making which directly affect society (for example, poor waste management).”

Impact of COVID-19 on universities

Similar to other parts of the world, Ethiopia is affected by the multifaceted impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Higher education is one of the sectors that has been significantly affected by the impacts.

On 16 March 2020 the government closed schools across the country immediately after the announcement of the first five COVID-19 cases. At that time, universities were not closed and the government planned to provide all essential care to students at their respective universities.

However, on 24 March, the government decided to close all higher education institutions because of the increasing number of new cases and with the purpose of preventing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Here, it is important to note that almost all public universities are residential universities. Thus, following the full closures, students have left universities until further notice.

In a country like Ethiopia where there is poor technology infrastructure and use of ICT in promoting learning, it is not difficult to imagine the serious impact of the coronavirus pandemic on universities in executing their day-to-day activities, and thereby the impact on achieving their core missions.

Challenges and lessons

Some public universities (such as Addis Ababa University) have vowed to continue and complete their postgraduate programmes according to their academic calendar. Courses are planned to be delivered through online learning using email, websites and ‘other platforms’.

Although the effort has been much appreciated, the decision and its applicability have been questioned and heavily criticised by different groups including staff and students. This is mainly because the decision has been made without consulting students and academic staff, and despite the fact that there is a clear lack of experience in designing and delivering online learning.

Yet, one thing that has often been heard from the higher education community is that there is a big lesson learnt from COVID-19 regarding universities’ ability and preparedness to provide online learning, which is considered part and parcel of the future of education.

Combatting COVID-19

Ethiopian universities are among the institutions that have been actively involved in combatting COVID-19. Many public universities have participated in, inter alia, organising transport to send students home; preparing their campuses to be used as quarantine centres; initiating research on issues related to COVID-19; mobilising their communities to participate in volunteer services and to donate money for initiatives that aim to prevent the spread of the coronavirus; participating in creating awareness on COVID-19; providing food and cleaning items to people in need; producing much-needed items such as hand sanitisers, masks and gowns for health professionals, etc.

As reported by several media outlets, the universities’ effort in preventing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic has been much appreciated by different groups of society. This has also been noticed in social media. Generally, as much as their ambition and effort to continue postgraduate programmes have been denounced, their effort in preventing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic is much acclaimed.

It can be argued that COVID-19 is partly a blessing in disguise for universities in Ethiopia because it provides them an opportunity to regain the progressively eroding societal trust in universities. It is up to them now to build strategically on this momentum, prove their worth to society in many ways, and improve and cement their collaboration and relationship with society.

How can basic education be implemented in Ethiopia during the COVID-19 pandemic? Through this blog article, I aim to outline five possible strategies for doing this.

Situation in Ethiopia

Schools in Ethiopia closed due to COVID-19 on 16 March 2020, following the declaration of the virus as a pandemic by the World Health Organization on 12 March 2020. The Ministry of Education of Ethiopia developed a ‘Concept Note for Education Sector COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan’ on 3 April 2020. The objective of the response plan is to ensure the continuity of general education, which was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and contribute to the effort of containing the spread of the virus. The core strategies of the response plan of the Ministry of Education are as follows: “The strategies provide recommendations for the continuity of learning at all levels while schools are closed due to COVID19 including the use of digital technology such as e-learning secondary education and multi-media channels for primary schools” (p. 5). In addition, the plan recommends providing school feeding for vulnerable children.

Following the school closures and the response plan set by the Ministry of Education, the respective regional education bureaus have initiated the continuity of education using various media, including using educational radio programmes and television learning programmes provided by the Ministry of Education. In addition, some private schools, mostly in urban areas, have been focusing on engaging parents and their students in learning through a mobile application called Telegram, which is similar to WhatsApp but more widely used in EthiopiaOverall, there are practical challenges in how distance learning programmes can be accessed by students during such emergency contexts.

  1. Availability of devices

Providing lessons through educational radio programmes, educational satellite television programmes (plasma TV), and online education, for example using Telegram, all assume that parents and their children have at least one of these gadgets. Yet in the Ethiopian context, the majority of households do not. In addition, physical distancing and staying at home to protect oneself and others from spreading the virus limits family members from sharing devices, which is common under normal circumstances. In a context where neighbours are not expected to meet and share electronic devices, the majority of families are left without access to electronic media. In addition, although the majority of families may claim to have mobile phones, I believe, they do not have smart phones that can receive messages through Telegram.

Taking into consideration the limited access to devices available to the majority of the population, there appears to be a very big gap for disadvantaged groups – especially those in the rural agrarian and pastoralist communities, economically disadvantaged segments of the society, persons with disabilities and students with non-literate families or first generation learners. Therefore, there is a very visible issue of inequity. As a strategy, I suggest all learners need to have at least a solar-powered tablet, which they could purchase through a long-term loan if families cannot afford itSchool grants could be used to subsidise the purchase of these gadgets. The availability of such devices seems a necessity rather than a luxury for teachers and students, to help with narrowing the inequalities in learning. Unless efforts are put in place to create more access to electronic gadgets and the associated infrastructures, it would be impossible to practically implement the stated strategy by the Ministry of Education.

  1. Providing a coordinated response

The various efforts of providing lessons to students in an emergency situation have been scattered and remain uncoordinated. The public and private schools’ responses, across rural and urban areas, are varied in terms of how lessons are managed in the effort to prevent the spread of the virus. There should be a strong taskforce that could virtually meet and share good practices and generate efficient ways of facilitating learning for all. Many students from private schools in Addis Ababa, for instance, are expected to follow their lessons with the help of technology (i.e. radio, TV, email, and/ or Telegram). Table 1 below shows diverse response patterns for private schools. But what about students from public schools who have no access to devices? Critically, there is no mechanism of synthesising good practices from all actors. Had there been a coordinated response, lessons learnt from one another could be used to improvise the modalities of implementation. The response plan of the Ministry of Education does not spell out how to coordinate the various education actors, public or private. I believe it is not too late to re-organise the scattered responses to COVID-19 in the education sector.

  1. Monitoring engagement and learning

For the private, mainly urban, schools using methods such as Telegram to send out lessons, there seems to be less emphasis on monitoring whether students are engaging in the lessons and worksheets sent out. Similarly, many of the students from the public urban and rural schools are expected to follow the lessons from TVs and radios. Many of the education managers, including school principals, I guess, assume that parents would follow up with activities of their children’s lessons. Such an assumption does not hold in most cases due to several reasons: they might be stressed themselves; they might not have the pedagogical content knowledge; they might not be able or want to replace the teachers. In Table 1 below, I show that there is one school (Hillside) that not only delivers the lessons on Telegram and guides parents to follow up, it also connects the students with the respective teachers via Telegram links. This school has defined a feedback loop where students work on various assignments and quizzes have been channeled individually to the right teacher for feedback. However, many public schools do not have such a monitoring mechanism. Devising a monitoring tool and providing feedback on students’ engagement is a major pedagogical strategy for achieving desired results, which could be considered in the response plan of the Ministry of Education.

  1. Inclusion of pre-school children

The lessons provided appear to overlook pre-school-aged children, especially those who enrolled in public primary schools. As Table 1 indicates, good practices from some private schools could be emulated on how to address O-class and kindergarten children. However, parents need to be guided on how to stimulate, play and communicate with their kids in age-appropriate ways, so that they could at least be mature socio-emotionally and be protected from any forms of abuse and neglect. As a strategy, I suggest developing a multiple media approach to learning including TV, radio, online and on paper for parents of pre-school children on how to interact, facilitate play, communicate and stimulate children’s socio-emotional skills. Visits to families by community health workers could be used as an opportunity to support children.

  1. Coping emotionally with the effects of a pandemic

Teachers, parents and students are vulnerable to the shock caused by the COVID-19 pandemic – managing and coping with fear, stress and anxiety is necessary. Parents and children need to be reassured that fear of COVID-19 is normal and not seeing any danger in it is not normal. However, fear can turn out to be abnormal due to disturbances caused by the unknown. When people have the right information about COVID-19 and preventive measures from reliable sources, the fear serves as energy for seeking important coping strategies.

The Ministry of Education sent official letters to all Ethiopian schools about preventive measures in January. However, this may not have been enough to deliver information to communities and parents – more active strategies to reach out to parents and communities are needed. Parents and children need to know how to prevent catching the virus themselves by following the instructions provided by the Ethiopian Ministry of Health and the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO): frequent washing of both hands, covering the nose and mouth with masks or cloths; physical distancing of about 1 metre apart from another person; and covering your nose through your bent elbows or using tissues when coughing and sneezing. In addition, people are advised to report to health officers whenever you or someone you know have shown symptoms related to a dry cough, fever and tiredness. More detailed information than this, as indicated on the WHO website, could be used to increase the awareness of people about COVID-19 and its preventive measures. Such awareness reduces the fear of the unknown and increases people’s readiness to cope with the pandemic. As a strategy, a stress management toolkit should be developed on how to cope with the stress caused by COVID-19 and the associated crises. In addition to improving the Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) issues of COVID-19 among teachers, parents and students, the toolkit should contain fundamentals of coping strategies with stress such as appraisal-focused coping strategies, adaptive behavioral coping strategies, emotion-focused coping strategies, reactive and proactive coping strategies, social coping and humour.

To sum up, this reflection underlines that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic school closures, there could be significant learning loss in general and huge inequalities against disadvantaged segments of the population. Establishing a national taskforce from diverse actors in the education sector and revisiting the existing response plan and its strategies and adopting additional strategies, as well as monitoring and evaluating the implementations process should all be given immediate attention.

When the Ethiopian government decided to close all types of educational institutions on 16 March to contain the possible impacts of COVID-19, sending nearly one million students home, the news did not come as a surprise to many of the 250 private higher education institutions (PHEIs) that had been following global events and watching similar measures being taken by other African countries.

In the immediate aftermath of the closure, the government set up a national task force that started mobilising the public towards combatting the impacts of the pandemic. Most private institutions responded to the call by donating money, sanitary items, essential supplies and even their buildings to be used for quarantine and storage purposes.

According to a recent figure obtained from the Ethiopian Private Higher Education and TVET Institutions’ Association, donations worth more than ETB30 million (nearly US$1 million) were raised by private institutions for the cause.

Private medical colleges also enlisted nearly 4,000 of their medical students to be deployed by the government if the situation should escalate beyond the capacities of full-time professionals in the hospitals and health centres to combat the pandemic.

Mounting strains on private higher education

The last seven weeks have increasingly shown the difference in the impact of the closures on public and private higher education institutions. Public institutions, which have their budget fully covered by the government, have had no serious setback in terms of running their businesses and paying salaries of employees. Their main challenge has been supporting their students online and responding to their communities’ needs.

The private sector, however, started to feel the strain within the first few weeks. This was not unexpected, given the weak status of the sector.

The vast majority of PHEIs across the country depend almost entirely on student tuition and fees for their existence. There are very few non-profit private institutions established by religious entities and NGOs which may be able to seek support from their parent organisations.

Most PHEIs run their programmes in rented buildings owned by individuals and private businesses. They employ tens of thousands of people and incur substantial expenses (70% to 80%) on rentals and salaries.

PHEIs pay taxes and duties, and they repay loans from financial institutions at exorbitant rates – as is the case with many other private enterprises. They receive little or no direct or indirect assistance from the government. A student loan system that benefits all students, including those in the private sector, is not a policy instrument in Ethiopia as is the case in neighbouring countries like Kenya and Tanzania.

The challenges of providing online education and support have not been simple either. The challenges include poor internet connectivity, exorbitant internet costs, lack of appropriate technology – all of which are serious challenges to students over and above their possible lack of preparedness to pursue their studies during such an uncertain period.

The pervasive lack of a well-developed learning management system has forced many institutions to revert to social media platforms like Telegram, Facebook, etc, as an immediate resort to send lessons to students. The difficulties of using these platforms have been noted when it comes to submitting assignments and institutional materials that need to be protected.

Another serious challenge is the mounting number of students that do not have the opportunity or capacity to access the digital platforms created. These challenges continue to be a source of unhappiness for students and disagreement between students and institutions.

National directives

Despite general directives given by government to shift all forms of teaching online, the physical absence of students from campus has meant, in the case of private institutions, the absence of revenue on which the existence of most institutions depend.

At first, most private schools including higher institutions were discouraged from collecting fees due to the moral implications and because of the obvious limitations in their capacity to deliver teaching and learning with the same momentum and in the same way as they had in the past.

Statements from government officials and the public discouraged the charging of fees on the grounds that it was “not the right time” to do so. Private institutions should be showing sympathy towards society which was under strain, it was argued, and running costs of institutions should in any event have declined due to the closures.

There followed a direct instruction from the Ministry of Education: private schools would be allowed to collect only 50% to 75% of monthly fees as compensation for the online services they started offering, and only in consultation with parents’ committees set up at each school.

This coincided with a national state of emergency that prohibited commercial and private employers, including PHEIs, from reducing their workforce or prematurely terminating employment contracts which further compromised the position of private institutions at all levels of the education strata. Private higher education institutions conceded a 25% monthly reduction of fees of their own accord.

Despite the absence of official statistics, the strain of paying monthly staff salaries, rent and other expenses is already evident in the private higher education sector and the sector is wary of mounting pressures in the future and as the academic year draws to a close.

Bailing out the private sector

There are some forms of assistance available to the private sector in general but, given the capacity of the government, there is little that the sector can expect in terms of alleviating its mounting challenges.

Financial institutions that could have provided substantial assistance to the sector by reducing interest rates and offering long-term loans have not been forthcoming despite some positive gestures. The benefits extended so far are restricted to postponing repayment periods for bank loans.

The government has been encouraging landlords to reduce or waive rentals for businesses over the next few months but the number of those heeding this call is far below expectations.

Apart from its daily challenges, it can be seen that the private sector will not escape the negative impacts of the pandemic. Most PHEIs are already struggling to survive the first wave; a few have started downsizing, while others are closing some of their branches or units and are laying off what they consider to be redundant staff.

Given the strains, more challenges along this line are yet to come if the closures continue for the next few months. This will have direct implications for the students and their families that the government is intending to protect.

Previous experience has shown that the closures of private institutions entail a variety of challenges that include the loss of student records, difficulties in transferring to a new institution, labour tensions and other complex issues that bankruptcy of any private business brings with it.

The effects are not restricted to individual institutions but extend to families, regulatory agencies and government authorities that are often embroiled in endless litigations and bureaucratic engagements, which may not end to the satisfaction of individual parties whose cost, money and energy could be compromised.

Anticipating the future

The demand for private higher education is not likely to diminish post COVID-19, assuming that tuition fees at PHEIs will stay the same and the individual income of employees at both public and private enterprises will not be seriously affected.

Furthermore, there will inevitably be strain on the public higher education sector as other sectors compete for public funding, which means an additional gap that will need to be accommodated by the private sector. However, interest in investing in such a volatile sector may not continue as it used to in the short- and mid-term.

While the future may not be quite as bleak as suggested, the private sector’s continuity depends heavily on what can be done today. It is understandable that government is overwhelmed by a multitude of social, political and economic pressures unleashed by COVID-19.

However, unless a substantial intervention is made in terms of bailing out the private higher education sector and-or influencing financial institutions to provide meaningful assistance at an early period of the crisis, this sector, which boasts the largest number of students in Africa, will be significantly weakened.

This blog was written by Janice Kim, Postdoctoral Research Associate and Pauline Rose, Director, REAL Centre, University of Cambridge. Pauline is also International Research Team Lead for the Ethiopia RISE Programme. This blog is part of a series from the REAL Centre reflecting on the impacts of the current COVID-19 pandemic on research work on international education and development. It has also been published on the UKFIET website.

The potential effects of COVID-19 on education systems are now being widely considered. With learning disrupted for more than 1.6 billion children and youth worldwide, the implications are likely to be huge. Yet pre-primary education is one area that is receiving less attention. This is a potentially serious neglect, recognising the importance of tackling disadvantage from the early years. Given that early childhood is a critical period in which a child’s foundations for lifelong success is laid, the threats to financial, physical, mental and social health of families caused by COVID-19 could possibly affect their children for the rest of their lives.

In Ethiopia, schools have been closed from 16 March 2020, and more than 26 million learners from over 47,000 schools are currently staying at home. This places at risk the improvements to date in Ethiopia’s education provision, which has experienced a rapid shift from an elite to the mass system in primary education over the past two decades, opening up opportunities to many who were previously excluded from access to education. Despite these improvements, around 1 in 4 children are at risk of dropping out in the first year of primary schooling, and nearly half of students are likely to fail to complete primary education. Student learning outcomes also remain very low: 90% of Grade 4 students in Ethiopia have not reached the basic reading proficiency level.

A sudden influx of young children into pre-primary education in Ethiopia

Recognising these challenges, in 2010, Ethiopia adopted a new policy framework for early childhood education, with the aim of ensuring that children from disadvantaged backgrounds in particular would be ready for primary school. With increased government involvement, the gross enrolment rate in pre-primary education surged from 4 to 46% over a six-year period. This focus is aligned with the increased attention to pre-primary education as a means to promote school readiness in the education Sustainable Development Goal (SDG4). In an emergency such as the current pandemic, young children from disadvantaged backgrounds are at particular risk: of being left unattended, exposed to the economic hardship of families, with lack of access to clean water and sanitation, adequate nutrition and health care, and stimulating nurturing environments. Extremely limited government resources had been allocated to pre-primary education prior to the crisis, reaching only around 3% of the total education budget, making an appropriate response in the current situation even more challenging.

How to reach young children with no distance learning for pre-primary?

The Ministry of Education in Ethiopia has been encouraging students to continue education from home. Primary school students are advised to follow radio lessons and read their textbooks at home, while secondary school students are advised to follow lessons that can be accessed through satellite TV. However, there is no such strategy for pre-primary school students, including those who are enrolled in O-Class, a one-year reception class for 6-year-olds attached to public primary school. This is not aligned with the Government’s ambition of ensuring pre-primary to be free, compulsory and part of the general education in the Education Sector Roadmap 2018-2030. As a priority, consideration needs to be given to how best to reach these children, for example whether the development of media lessons for pre-school-aged children and their families is feasible and appropriate.

To design an appropriate response and identify the best ways of reaching young children, evidence is needed on the extent to which families have access to audio or other media technologies at home. In this blog, we use household survey data from our World Bank-funded Early Learning Partnership (ELP) research in Ethiopia to explore which children have access to audio and mobile phones that might enable them to join distance learning during the uncertain period of school closures. These data were collected in November 2019 from 3,200 households with pre-school-aged children across seven regions of Ethiopia. We highlight wide inequalities by household wealth and urban-rural locations.

Access to radio is generally low and unequal between rich and poor households >

According to 2016 Demographic and Health Survey data, the national average of radio ownership in Ethiopia is surprisingly low at 28%, far below the African average (54%). Our ELP data show a similar pattern, with only one quarter of the households having a radio at home. It is striking that there is low radio coverage in both rural and urban areas. The poorest are least likely to have access to a radio (18%). Even amongst the richest in the sample, fewer than one third have access (Figure 1). The overall picture raises a question about whether radio lessons can be the best way to reach young children during the time of school closures. Only 10% of households in Ethiopia, primarily in urban areas, have a TV at home, therefore it is highly unlikely that this can be an effective means of delivering education content to the vast majority of the population.

Figure 1. Radio ownership (%) in Ethiopia by location and by household wealth (ELP, 2019)  

Bar chart showing radio ownership (%) in Ethiopia by location and by household wealth

Access to mobile phones is more widespread, but with wider wealth inequalities

Another proposed way of communicating education material to households is via SMS or WhatsApp messaging, or the equivalent (such as Telegram, which is used in Ethiopia). Whether and how this can help support education for pre-school-aged children is one question. Another is whether there is sufficient coverage. Households are far more likely to have access to a mobile phone (around three quarters) than a radio (one quarter). However, inequalities are far starker: coverage is around half in rural areas compared with urban areas. Most wealthier households have a mobile phone, while only half of the poorest do (Figure 2). While distance learning using mobile technologies may have the potential to reach a wider population, it is not clear whether these mobile phones are sufficiently functional to exchange messages or media files through popular apps such as WhatsApp or Telegram.

Figure 2. Mobile phone ownership (%) by location and by household wealth (ELP, 2019)

Bar chart looking at mobile phone ownership (%) by location and by household wealth

Parents face multiple challenges in supporting learning at home

Even when radio or mobile lessons reach young children, they are unlikely to achieve developmental gains without sufficient support from their parents at home. Parents’ ability to support their children’s learning through the current intended media channels is highly dependent on whether they themselves have had any experience of schooling, or whether they can read. Among the primary caregivers in our survey, nearly half have never been to school and one third have not completed primary school (Figure 3). About half cannot read at all. Also, due to the economic recession as a result of COVID-19, parents from poor backgrounds often do not have the time and resources to support home-based learning. Approaches using media channels need to take account of these multiple constraints that families are facing, including identifying more creative solutions to enrich home-based learning, even for parents who are illiterate.

Figure 3. Primary caregivers’ education levels

Bar chart showing the level of education for primary caregivers

An urgent priority: handwashing facilities at schools

While it is important to ensure learning continuity during the crisis, one urgent priority will be to ensure handwashing facilities are available in schools when they reopen. Sadly, Ethiopia’s National Education Statistics show that only one in five schools had functional handwashing facilities in 2018/19. This is consistent with our household survey data, which further reveal that 74% of schools in urban areas and 87% in rural areas do not have any handwashing facilities. The remaining schools use a shared basin or hand-poured water, which may not be of sufficient standard needed to prevent the virus spreading (Figure 4). This striking figure is prevalent not only in Ethiopia but in other low-income countries: UNICEF report finds that only 13% of schools have access to handwashing facilities in 21 Eastern and Southern Africa countries. Without hygiene preparedness of schools, reopening could be dangerous for children spreading the virus and for teachers catching it. Equipping schools with handwashing facilities needs to be an urgent priority of multi-sectoral efforts with ongoing national programmes, such as One WASH National Program and Rural Productive Safety Net programme.

Figure 4. Handwashing facilities (%) in schools by location (ELP, 2019)

Bar chart showing handwashing facilities (%) in schools by location

What should be the next steps to ensuring educational continuity during and after the pandemic?

1. Develop effective distant learning strategies for pre-primary students by empowering parents

The Government’s efforts to ensuring learning continuity for all children should not overlook pre-primary education children. One promising approach will be unlocking the potential for parents to support their children’s learning. This needs guidance to be provided to parents on how to stimulate, play, and communicate with their children in age-appropriate ways. Ethiopia has some resources from recently-developed curriculum materials for O-Class, including local songs, stories and indoor games for young children, that can be easily adapted to audio or other media forms. Also, the global and regional Early Childhood Development Networks have been compiling useful resources for families with young children. Early Childhood Development Action Network (ECDAN) provides early childhood focused COVID-19 resources for parents, educators, and policymakers available in multiple languages. The Africa Early Childhood Network (AfECN) and the Asia-Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC) are consolidating regional actions and resources for children and families amidst COVID-19. Approaches need to take into account the literacy level of parents, as well as their time constraints.

2. Seek multiple media channels to reach children who are most vulnerable

In many low-income countries, distance learning using TV and radio is deemed to be a feasible option. Our data from Ethiopia point to access to radio being low, and so maybe not a solution for many. The widespread availability of mobile phones may open up opportunities to support parents to stay connected with teachers and communities for home schooling, although many obstacles remain (e.g. mobile connectivity, functionality and electricity) to develop this as one main channel for distance learning at a larger scale. In addition, ways in which this medium can be used in appropriate ways for young children’s learning deserves further consideration.

It is important for governments and donors to be informed by such data as presented in this blog, in order to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic and develop strategies that are timely and relevant. Our ongoing project, the World Bank-funded Early Learning Partnership programme in Ethiopia, is keen to adapt research for the new reality in the face of a global crisis. We have worked together to identify how we can collect data that could be informative for policymakers, in real time through a mobile phone survey (recognising that this might limit participation of some, as indicated above). We hope to see how the Government is prioritising pre-primary education in their response to COVID-19, how parents are engaging in their children’s learning at home, whether any measures are being taken to avoid the pandemic further exacerbating inequalities, and how decisions to reopen schools are formed at system and household level. We hope the voices collected through the phone surveys will help us to inform the Government and donors to identify equitable and effective solutions for young children and families during and after school closures amidst the global crisis.

Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education says it has started to look into safe ways to reopen schools that are currently closed as part of government’s effort to contain coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus lockdown measures have closed all schools in Ethiopia on March 16 – three days after the country confirmed its first case. Since then, students are following their education via television and radio.

These means “could not replace effectively teachers but help students get education”, Haregwa Mamo, spokesperson of the Ministry, told state-run Ethiopian News Agency on Sunday.

The Ministry has now formed a team that study safe ways to restart schools across the nation when the country manages to contain COVID-19, a deadly illness cased by Coronavirus.

The outcome of the study would be key in devising detailed plans to reopen primary schools, the spokeswoman said

The research will, however, take a long period of time, said Haregwa who advised students and their families to  focus on keeping themselves safe – for now.

Most governments around the world have temporarily closed educational institutions in an attempt to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These nationwide closures are impacting almost 70% of the world’s student population, according to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Ethiopia responded quickly to COVID-19, and while the number of fatalities remains low, the country recorded its highest daily increase of cases in June. The country remains under a state of emergency until August. Schools and universities are closed. Large gatherings are banned, and traffic to and from the capital city is restricted. In addition to the pandemic, the people of Ethiopia are dealing with locust swarms that threaten many families’ crops.

All Compassion child development centers have stopped group activities, meetings and training. Partner church staff members in Ethiopia have distributed 165,840 food packs and 167,240 hygiene kits, and they have provided medical support to 4,025 individuals. They have educated families on COVID-19 prevention and care and given their personal contact information to families so they can have quick access if needed. Additionally, staff has ensured that 526 centers across the nation have working hand-washing facilities for children, families and the community to access.

Ethiopia’s needs 131 million face masks in the next four months, state-linked Fana Broadcasting Corporate report. Health Minister Lia Tadesse disclosed that the supplies are needed in healthcare facilities across the country.

The country’s industrial parks have hinted in the past that it was diversifying to the production of masks. Wearing of masks is compulsory in the capital and other parts of the country.

The country has so far confirmed 1,344 after recording 87 new coronavirus cases. The death toll is up to 14 from 12. Over 160,000 tests have been conducted whiles active cases crossed th 1,000 mark, stands at 1,097.

  • Despite financial constraints, Ethiopia has managed to keep its COVID-19 cases to a minimum, with only 6 deaths out of a population of 109 million.
  • The government’s rapid response, including house-to-house screenings and diagnostic testings, were crucial in stemming the outbreak.
  • Ethiopia has also encouraged production and other economic activities to continue during the crisis.

To the surprise of many, African governments have responded swiftly and boldly to the COVID-19 crisis. Ethiopia’s unconventional approach, for example, reflects the country’s limited financial and human resources, as well as the low level of available international support. Despite these severe constraints, the results so far have been better than anyone expected.

From the start, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government understood that Ethiopia’s success in combating COVID-19 would depend not on the number of respirators it had, but on the public-health measures taken to contain the virus’s spread. His government also wanted to prevent serious damage to one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, which expanded at a 10.5% average annual rate in 2004-18 but remains vulnerable. Safeguarding these gains, preventing job losses, and ensuring firms’ survival was critical.

So, instead of implementing a national lockdown like most other governments, including in Africa, Ethiopia initiated other essential measures in January, well ahead of most developed countries. The government then scaled up its response in mid-March, when the first COVID-19 case was reported in the country, and declared a state of emergency only on April 8. Moreover, it has encouraged production and other economic activities to continue during the crisis, thus considerably easing the pressure on vulnerable social groups and the informal sector.

The results so far are salutary, though we fear the worst may be yet to come. As of May 26, Ethiopia – with a population of 109 million – had reported only 701 cases and six deaths. That represents an infection rate of 0.8% among the tested population, 80% of whom are 24-44 years old.

The government’s rapid initial response was crucial. In January, it introduced strict passenger-screening protocols at Addis Ababa’s international airport, East Africa’s largest aviation hub. The Ministry of Health and local and regional governments jointly conducted house-to-house screenings of more than 11 million households containing 40 million people in the capital and provinces. And diagnostic testing was scaled up from zero in early March to over 5,000 tests per day by May, though it continues to be a major challenge.

Public awareness and education have been central to the government’s effort. The prime minister makes regular public announcements regarding COVID-19, while the health minister provides daily briefings. And, as part of a concerted media campaign to reach all citizens, state-owned telecoms monopoly Ethio Telecom uses cell-phone ring tones to remind people of the importance of hygiene measures such as hand washing, social distancing, and wearing facemasks. This platform has shown positive effects.

Furthermore, since February, the Ethiopian authorities have implemented a strict regime of rigorous contact tracing, isolation, compulsory quarantine, and treatment. The government converted public universities’ dormitories to increase the capacity of quarantine centers to over 50,000 beds, established additional isolation centers with a total of 15,000 beds, and set up treatment centers with a 5,000-bed capacity. It also introduced more comprehensive life insurance coverage to protect front-line health workers.

Whereas many advanced and emerging economies have introduced huge economic-stimulus and rescue plans, the Ethiopian government has been constrained by dwindling revenues and the need to reallocate budget expenditures to contain the pandemic. It cannot please everyone, and therefore has had to prioritize its modest resources.

The government’s COVID-19 economic-support package is based on the principle of shared costs and sacrifices. For example, the employers’ confederation, labor unions, and the government agreed on a tripartite protocol to prevent layoffs during the crisis. Government subsidies have enabled manufacturing exporters to benefit from zero-cost rail transport and lower export logistics costs. And the government’s new industrial-parks strategy envisages the establishment of manufacturing hubs to produce personal protective equipment for domestic and overseas markets.

Ethiopia continues to mobilize national resources and encourage voluntary activities to address the public health emergency, with the government ensuring close coordination among federal agencies at all levels. And although the government’s pandemic response is a work in progress, its success so far illustrates what African countries can achieve despite tight resource constraints.

First and foremost, African governments must recognize that they are facing not only a public-health emergency but also a multi-dimensional crisis with long-term implications. Standard policy prescriptions, therefore, will not work. Tackling the crisis requires not only local and national government responses that take each country’s unique context into account but also unified regional and international action.

Second, the Ethiopian government has relied heavily on community mobilization and public-awareness campaigns, which have proved to be effective and cost-efficient. It has also relied on the country’s prevention-based primary public health-care infrastructure and the health extension system that was built up during the last two decades.

Third, the government ensured a coherent response by maximizing coordination among public agencies at different levels. It also engaged in dialogue with the private sector to find workable solutions when global brands and buyers abandoned their suppliers in developing countries.

Fourth, resource-constrained African countries cannot provide government and charitable support to all groups and firms. Governments must prioritize and target their limited resources at companies, and tie that support to performance criteria in order to incentivize vital social goals like employment retention. Learning what works and what does not in that regard has been a vital catalyst in Ethiopia’s response.

Finally, it is too early to judge the pandemic response mounted by Ethiopia and other African countries because governments still have to scale up their efforts to tackle the inevitable “surge” stage of the crisis. But one lesson is already clear: African governments’ COVID-19 strategies must reflect the local context, the evolving nature of the pandemic, binding resource constraints, and weak international collaboration.

This report is prepared under the auspices of the National Emergency Coordination Center for COVID-19 response, led by the National Disaster Risk Management Commission (NDRMC), supported by OCHA Ethiopia with participation of Cluster Coordinators. It covers the period from 5 – 18 June 2020.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • As of 18 June, Ethiopia reports 3,954 confirmed COVID-19 cases compared to 1,636 on 4 June. The cumulative number of people recovered has reached 934, while the number of deaths has increased to 65. Cases have increased exponentially in the last two weeks, with Addis Ababa counting a total of 2,877 cases. (Source: MoH/Ethiopia Public Health Institute, EPHI).
  • On 6 June, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in Gambela region, while on 10 June, the first case of COVID-19 amongst the refugee population in Ethiopia was reported in Adi Harush camp, Tigray region. The camp hosts some 33,928 Eritrean refugees, and four cases have been confirmed so far.
  • From June 15 – 20, the National Emergency Coordination Center (ECC) in cooperation with line Ministries, regional governments, and humanitarian partners conducted a multi-cluster assessment in quarantine centers (QCs) and points of entries (POEs) in seven regions. Other regions will be covered in future.
  • On 10 June, in a meeting at the ECC, Government called on partners to scale up efforts to decongest IDP camps and improve basic water and hygiene, as part of COVID-19 response. The International Office for Migration’s Site Management Support has finalized a position paper on emergency decongestion of IDP sites (link: https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/en/operations/ethiopia/covid-19).
  • On 12 June, in a public statement, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed warned the public that Ethiopia is “yet to see the worst of COVID-19 pandemic during the kiremt season (June – September), and called on all members of society to stand in solidarity in the effort to control the worsening COVID-19 pandemic”.
  • Government and partners are scaling-up risk communication and community engagement (RCCE) interventions, such as dissemination of messaging on the impact of COVID-19 on women as well as prevention tips catered for women’s needs and other risk communication activities. IOM alone reached more than 1,175,000 IDPs, returnees and host community through door-to-door sensitization, mobile van messaging, and sensitization during distributions.
  • On 9 June, the National Disaster Risk Management Commission (NDRMC) Commissioner and the Humanitarian Coordinator for Ethiopia released a revised 2020 humanitarian requirement outlining additional humanitarian priorities since the release of the 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan on 28 January. The spike in humanitarian needs is mainly due to COVID-19-related multi-sector impact. The revised requirement of US$1.65 billion seeks to address the needs of 16.5 million people, including 9.8 million targeted for COVID-19-related interventions at a cost of $506 million.
  • Globally, the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP) launched in March, covering the period April – December 2020, requests some $7.27 Billion, $506 million of which for Ethiopia, and as of 19 June has received some $1.32 Bn (18.2 per cent). Please check for further updates: https://fts.unocha.org/appeals/952/summary.
  • The European Union and its member states have mobilized €487 million to support the Ethiopian Health System, to improve quarantine sites, social protection enhancement, livelihood recovery, and strengthen Ethiopia’s economy.

In a race against time, UNHCR and its partners are supporting refugees and IDPs to protect themselves against COVID-19 infection as Ethiopia continues to experience rapid increases in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. As of 17 June 2020, the country reported a total standing at 3,759 coronavirus patients. The number of fatalities has also shown a sharp increase over the last two weeks, reaching 63 from only seven. The official records show that 849 patients have recovered thus far. Overall, Ethiopia has conducted 197,361 laboratory tests throughout the country, with all regions now reporting positive cases. Many of the confirmed cases have not had any interaction with infected individuals, nor recent travel histories, indicating that transmissions are now in the communities.

Prevention and response: While there has been no large-scale outbreak amongst refugees in Ethiopia, ARRA, UNHCR, the Regional Health Bureaus and partners continue all efforts to mitigate transmission of the virus in the country’s 26 refugee camps and surrounding host community locations. UNHCR imported and distributed 140,000 masks to healthcare workers and other frontline responders, but there remains a huge gap in the supply of personal protective equipment, medicines and medical supplies.

UNHCR is supporting local and regional authorities in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in parts of the country that have been affected by conflict-induced displacement. Refugees and IDPs often live in overcrowded conditions where physical distancing is practically impossible; large gatherings have been suspended and refugees are required to maintain physical distancing during food distributions and other activities.

Refugee representatives, Refugee Outreach Volunteers (ROVs), women, youth and child committees and other community structures have been actively engaged in outreach activities and messaging on COVID-19 to ensure that basic preventive measures are observed in the communities. Communication on risks continues to be scaled up to promote stronger community engagement in efforts to prevent the spread of the virus in the refugee camps and the urban settings.

In addition to the distribution of awareness-raising materials, innovative channels of communication with communities on the prevention of COVID-19 are being employed. These include telephone helplines, the use of WhatsApp and Telegram groups, using loudspeakers and local radio, as well as child-friendly information materials which are developed by refugee artists and distributed among the communities. UNHCR, at the same time, has intensified its social media engagement to share key messages while undertaking a mapping of the use of social media among refugee groups. The aim is to continue engagement with them post COVID-19.

UNHCR, ARRA and partners are improving the camp-based temporary isolation centres to meet the required standards and are also extending support to Government quarantine and treatment facilities by helping to furnish the facilities and offer training to healthcare workers. Construction of improved camp-based isolation facilities is currently underway in Hilaweyn, Melkadida, Awbarre and Sheder Refugee Camps which could also serve as treatment facilities given the limited capacities of the Government-designated centres.

In the Benishangul-Gumuz Region, 54 refugees were quarantined for 14 days and thereof tested negative for the coronavirus before they were released to the different camps. There are 43 others who are still in quarantine in the Melkadida camps, Somali Region.

In this COVID-19 pandemic, timely access to accurate information can be the difference between life and death. The stakes are high in developing countries like Ethiopia where millions of people have limited access to information because of low media access, insufficient internet penetration, illiteracy, and language diversity.

“Our deepest worry is that segments of the population are on the wrong side of the information divide,” says UNICEF Representative Adele Khodr. “Typically, these are marginalized urban populations, the rural poor, or children who have no access to critical and child-friendly information. In this pandemic, when everyone should be aware of the risks posed by COVID-19 and, most importantly, be informed about how to protect themselves and their families, leaving these populations in the dark will be catastrophic for the country.”

This was a special day for 21-year-old Rahima Mohammed. She had just given birth to her first child at a health centre in Lideta, Addis Ababa. However, due to COVID-19, her joy was clouded by worries and conflicting emotions.

Rahima always wanted to deliver her baby in a health facility but not everyone shared the same sentiment.

“My neighbours told me not to go to the health centre. They told me that I might get infected with the coronavirus. They said I should give birth at home to be safe,” says Rahima as she cradles her newborn.

Under normal circumstances, Rahima would be surrounded by family and friends to celebrate the new arrival. But COVID-19 has made this impossible; to prevent its spread, access to the clinic by non-patients has been restricted.

Ethiopia reported its first COVID-19 case on 16th March. Since then, the number of cases has steadily risen to nearly 900 by the end of May.

“When the first case was reported, people were afraid to come to the health centre. We saw a decrease in the number of patients,” says Sister Kalkidan Gizaw, the nurse who helped Rahima deliver her baby. “There was a perception that the risk of contracting the coronavirus was higher at health facilities.”

To address these fears, the health centre put in place measures such as hand washing stands, temperature screening at the entrance, and physical distancing in waiting rooms.

Door-to-door home visits are a key part of health extension workers’ routine. They check on pregnant women, educate people about COVID-19 precautions, and promote routine medical check-ups and immunizations. During COVID-19, health extension workers are also conducting community-based temperature checks.

Ethiopia is among countries that have made notable progress in reducing maternal and child deaths, according to a 2019 situation analysis of children and women. But COVID-19 threatens to unravel much of this progress.  Data from the Ministry of Health for March shows that there was a nine percent decrease in the number of children treated for pneumonia compared with the previous eight-month average, suggesting a reluctance by parents to bring their children for treatment.

And due to the combined effects of the coronavirus, a desert locust infestation, disease outbreaks, and floods, UNICEF is estimating the number of children needing treatment for malnutrition to rise from 1.3 million to about 1.6 million.

“Although parents remain fearful of coming to the health centre, we are trying to implement all the necessary prevention measures by wearing face masks, limiting the number of people in waiting areas, and maintaining physical distancing, hopefully building the confidence of parents to continue with their children’s scheduled immunizations,” says Sister Kalkidan.

UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Health in ensuring that health and nutrition services for women, children and vulnerable communities continue to be provided during COVID-19. The support includes personal protective equipment for health workers, hygiene supplies for infection control, vaccines, injections, oral rehydration salts, antibiotics, and Ready-to-Use-Therapeutic Food for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition.

Ethiopia will soon have a COVID-19 field hospital on the outskirts of the capital Addis Ababa. Health Minister Lia Tadesse visited and inaugurated the ongoing construction on Wednesday along with World Food Programme, WFP, head David Beasley and other partners.

The minister said work on the facility was “progressing rapidly.” Adding: “I would like to appreciate WFP for this effort and continued support.”

She added that the WHO and the ministry are currently discussing how the hospital can potentially serve as a training center for emergency medical response teams to benefit Ethiopia and the region.

The facility originally was to cater for UN staffers before it was designated a field hospital. It is built on a 25,000 sqm land, the field hospital is expected to go operational after 10 days. It’s been under construction for the past 3 weeks.

Total confirmed cases = 731 (new cases = 30)
Total recoveries = 181
Total deaths = 6
Active cases = 544

Figures valid as of close of day May 27, 2020

Ethiopia on Sunday announced the first two deaths of patients suffering from COVID-19, as officials ramped up testing to get a clearer picture of the outbreak there.

The first victim was a 60-year-old Ethiopian woman who had spent six days in intensive care, a health ministry statement said, with the second a 56-year-old Ethiopian man diagnosed with COVID-19 last Thursday.

“It is my deepest regret to announce the first death of a patient from #COVID19 in Ethiopia,” Health Minister Lia Tadesse said in announcing the country’s first fatality on Twitter.

Four hours later, Lia published a second post expressing “great sadness” as another death emerged.

Ethiopia, a country of more than 100 million people, confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on March 13 and has recorded just 43 in total — mostly people with a history of recent foreign travel.

But testing has been extremely limited.

As of Friday, the country had conducted just 1,222 tests, according to the Ethiopian Public Health Institute.

South Africa, by comparison, has performed tens of thousands of tests.

Ethiopian officials said Saturday they were conducting an additional 647 tests, notably of targeted health workers, transportation sector workers who have “direct contact with passengers” and randomly selected people in Addis Ababa, the capital, and the city of Adama in the Oromia region.

It was intended to help determine whether there has been undetected community transmission, said Dr Adisu Kebede, director of national laboratory capacity building.

“There are also a few cases that we identified that have no travel history and things like that, and from their contacts, you can guess that there is community transmission already,” Adisu said.

“The WHO recommended ‘test, test, test,’ so we had to test more people,” he added.

The country has “around 23,000” testing kits available, the vast majority donated last month by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, Adisu said.

It has no rapid testing capacity and can currently process no more than 500 tests per day, Adisu said. The goal is to push that figure to over 1,000 by the end of the month.

– Abiy resists lockdown-

Ethiopia has closed land borders and schools, freed thousands of prisoners to ease overcrowding, sprayed main streets in the capital with disinfectant and discouraged large gatherings.

Orthodox Christian leaders have encouraged worshippers to pray at home, and police were deployed Sunday to prevent large crowds from descending on one of the capital’s main cathedrals.

Orthodox Christians make up 40 percent of the country’s population.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has refrained from imposing the kinds of lockdown seen elsewhere in the region, including in Uganda, Rwanda and Mauritius.

“We can’t impose a lockdown like more developed nations, as there are many citizens who don’t have homes,” Abiy said Saturday. “Even those who have homes have to make ends meet daily.”

On Friday, March 13, Ethiopia’s health minister confirmed the country’s first case of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The patient is reportedly a 48-year-old Japanese national who recently traveled to Ethiopia from Burkina Faso.

Further international spread of COVID-19 is expected over the coming days and weeks.

Ethiopia may not yet have witnessed the worst of this pandemic. In times of health crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, we need our health systems to be working at their very best. This means that we need to trust our health system; health workers must have the equipment they need to do their job while protecting themselves and others, and healthcare must be accessible for all. Ethiopia’s health system and infrastructure is weak. The latest readiness assessments from the WHO indicate that there is extremely limited intensive care capacity for the treatment of severe COVID-19 cases if the surge comes. The ability to treat severe forms of COVID-19 will depend on the availability of ventilators, electricity, and oxygen, all of which are scarce in Ethiopia. As the Ministry of Health reports, currently, there are only 600 ventilators for over 100 million people. Even securing a supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), the first line of defence at the individual level, remains a major challenge.

Strategies and innovation in the face of the unprecedented    

The challenges our country faces in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 are enormous – however, there have been a range of proactive and coordinated efforts to respond to the pandemic. The government has been mobilizing different stakeholders and devising strategies to contain the virus through aggressive health measures and law enforcement. In order to reverse the rising numbers of infections, broader suppression measures were put in place, including closing schools and universities, prohibiting gatherings and promoting “social distancing” to the entire population. The current focus is reducing transmission of COVID-19 through individual and population-level measures, including personal hygiene, physical distancing, testing, isolating and tracking contacts and travel restrictions.

Ministry of Health (MOH) and National Public Health Institute (EPHI), provide regular updates (i.e. held press conferences) to inform the public. The Ministry is also working with a network of experts to coordinate regional surveillance efforts, diagnostics, clinical care and treatment, and other ways to identify, manage the disease and limit transmission. But hospitals are struggling to cope with COVID-19 as they face bed shortages, ICU equipment and testing facilities. To ease this pressure, shelter hospitals are ready and taken as a crucial step to isolate, treat, and triage patients with mild to moderate COVID-19. Hence, large, temporary hospitals are prepared by converting public venues, such as exhibition centres, into health-care facilities to isolate patients with mild to moderate symptoms of an infectious disease from their families and communities, while providing medical care, disease monitoring, food, shelter, and social activities. In Addis Ababa, Millennium Hall and other large avenues are ready for this purpose, which will help to isolate and treat more people who are infected. Many investors are lending their hotels to be prepared as quarantine centres and hospitals which will be crucial to contain the virus.

Social cohesion and social gatherings are of great importance for Ethiopian society. Churches and Mosques are now closed to limit the spread of the virus. Instead, the government and religious authorities have worked together to launch a television program for all major religions to broadcast their spiritual education so that their followers can continue to observe their faith while staying at home. Nevertheless, the battle is real to keep people at home when the one thing that is so meaningful to most—their spiritual engagement— has been taken away by the pandemic.

The arrival of the virus in Ethiopia has also given rise to local innovation. There are promising efforts to promote home-grown production of PPE to manage the spread of the virus. Factories in Addis Ababa and other manufacturing hubs have started producing alcohol-based cleaning solutions and hand sanitizer for distribution to high-risk areas. Textile factories are now focused on producing more face masks. Most of the universities are producing hand sanitizers and distributing them to the nearby communities. Researchers and students at Addis Ababa Technology University and manufacturers are working to assemble ventilators from locally sourced components. Notably, all these fast-moving efforts help to stay ahead of the virus long enough to put into place testing, contact tracing, and isolation, as well as temporary intensive care facilities. However, there is a need to better coordinate these scattered innovations towards the goal of greater long-term effectiveness and efficiency in fighting against COVID-19.

Recognizing limitations and uneven impacts

The present efforts to limit the spread of the virus are very encouraging. However, physical distancing and hand washing, globally adopted interventions to combat the spread of COVID-19, remain a major challenge in the context of overcrowding, poverty, and weak health-care systems.

The different measures in place are also urban-centric educational campaigns through media outlets that don’t consider the reality of rural society. It is only those with the privilege of access to radio and television that may hear about coronavirus risks, but not in great detail. Reaching out to the most vulnerable population in rural areas is vital. 75% percent of the Ethiopian people live in scattered rural villages. It requires special attention to prevent the spread before it gets to the villages. If it gets there, there may not be much room for intervention. Access to safe water and sanitation is low in Ethiopia, which inhibits people’s abilities to limit the infection. For now, the isolation of rural villages might shield them from the worst of COVID-19. But the absence of facilities and services makes the possibility of an outbreak in such areas particularly troubling.

Another challenge for Ethiopia concerns the feasibility of the pandemic suppression strategies being applied. While Ethiopia didn’t decree a complete lockdown, forcing all but the most essential businesses to close down or operate online makes sense to control the spread. But such approaches will hit some people much harder than others. Self–isolation and staying at home mechanisms work very well to a certain extent if there is regular money coming in, but it doesn’t work as well when so many are living on the edge of poverty. Poverty maintains its deep grip. Many live on what they earn each day, and won’t eat if they can’t work.

The pandemic has left many Ethiopians with the unenviable choice of either feeding their families or protecting them from COVID-19. The problem with approaches that do not take into account inequities is that these can end up limiting sustainable interventions. Evidently, more community engagement to develop culturally and contextually feasible health promotion activities is crucial in the fight against a disease such as COVID-19 and beyond.

While infection control and mitigation strategies have uneven impacts across Ethiopian society, the COVID-19 pandemic is underlining the fragility of Ethiopia’s health system. Access to basic health services remains the exception rather than the norm. Access to health care is severely limited, especially in rural areas. The spread of COVID-19 in Ethiopia is as much the product of its fragile health system and social inequalities as it is about epidemic dynamics.

The pandemic has created social panic, as contagious and dangerous as COVID-19 itself. As the sharp increase in infections is observed, worries ranging from the ability of strained healthcare systems to handle a severe outbreak, to the effect of the restrictions will have on those in the informal economy, play on people’s minds. Unless properly handled, the situation will create social unrest in the near future. COVID-19 is profoundly affecting people’s finances, with mental, physical and social health implications that will linger for years to come. As we anticipate the long-term social, economic and health effects of the pandemic, Ethiopia needs to address vulnerability and inequity to ensure communities rebound.

The grand lesson? COVID-19 has presented the world with myriad opportunities for revising, rebuilding and renewing health systems. What we need now is a firm resolve and global action to rectify inequity. While it is hard to overhaul systems in the middle of a crisis, it is evident that health system strengthening in Ethiopia has to be a top priority. It is an unprecedented opportunity for the country to dig deeper into what really needs to be done, for the future health of Ethiopian society.

Every time you place a call in Ethiopia, you get an educational message about coronavirus prevention – but that only helps if you can make a call.

Millions of Ethiopians living under a months-long government-imposed shutdown of internet and phone services in western Oromia are being left in the dark about the health risks.

Even before Ethiopia confirmed its first coronavirus case on March 13, people in the western Oromia region, where the military has conducted operations against a rebel force, faced significant challenges. Access to health care is severely limited, especially for those in rural areas. We recently spoke to a man who in July spent days calling hospitals in West Wellega in search of a ventilator for his sister who was dying of pneumonia; she didn’t survive. Because of government restrictions, international and local aid groups are unable to monitor disease outbreaks or provide adequate assistance.

The government has started to implement other basic measures to increase awareness and prevent the spread of the virus: the Ministry of Health provides regular updates, added sign language to its promotional materials, and appealed for calm following reports of discrimination and harassment of foreigners.

Ethiopia also partnered with the Jack Ma Foundation to help distribute coronavirus testing kits, masks, face shields, and protective suits to the 54 countries on the continent, with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed managing the logistics and distribution of these supplies.

But access to timely and accurate information is essential in a time of crisis, especially as Ethiopia simply does not have the infrastructure to cope with a coronavirus outbreak. Access to safe water and sanitation is low in Ethiopia. Cholera and measles outbreaks remain persistent public health threats, and high patient-to-physician ratios mean doctors are unable to tend to everybody. The new virus risks adding significant pressure to already strained health systems.

Those with the privilege of access to radio and television may hear about coronavirus risks, but not in great detail. The government’s refusal to restore phone and network access makes it likely that key information is not reaching everyone, including those vital to control efforts in western Oromia —health care workers and humanitarian organizations.

It is laudable that Abiy is taking charge of managing a coronavirus prevention effort on the African continent, but he should not ignore the needs of those within his own country.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Water utilities have a key role to play in the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic response.
  • The World Bank is working closely with a local utility in Ethiopia to increase water supply.
  • Providing sanitation and promoting handwashing behavior change also core parts of response.

Water utilities rarely grab the headlines, but their ability to keep water flowing is among the most important contributions in a pandemic response.

Safe water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services are a crucial part of preventing disease and protecting human health during infectious disease outbreaks, including the current coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). Yet these same disease outbreaks place substantial stress on the utilities responsible for delivery.

The staff-intensive nature of utilities makes them particularly susceptible to labor force reductions due to staff illness, physical distancing or quarantine. With budgets already tight, utilities may find themselves constrained even further as affected households struggle to pay for services. And reduced transportation and potentially intensified customs restrictions can disrupt supply chains, leading to shortages of the chemicals and parts that utilities require to continue operating.

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World Bank

That’s why resources from the World Bank’s Second Urban Water Supply and Sanitation Project in Ethiopia have been urgently mobilized to help overcome these challenges and maintain an adequate level of service during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  This project supports essential water supply and sanitation services for more than 3 million Ethiopians with:

  • 623,000 people in urban areas with access to improved water sources;
  • 61,000 new piped household water connections;
  • Safe management of excreta for 2.7 million people in urban areas;
  • More than 50,000 sewer connections in Addis Ababa; and
  • 1,000 public latrines

Under the project, the World Bank is working closely with the Addis Ababa Water and Sewerage Authority (AAWSA) to further increase water supply. Activities include borehole rehabilitation for existing groundwater sources across the city as well as the replacement of 20 water pumps in order to provide safe and reliable services to densely populated areas.

This project is also helping the AAWSA learn from and apply best practices and expertise of water utilities across the world. Some of the lessons so far include the importance of constantly updating emergency planning procedures when events are moving rapidly, identifying vital supplies and ensuring that suppliers can still provide them, and implementing a communications plan that keeps staff, customers and other stakeholders informed of developments.

Outside of Addis Ababa, the project is working with water utilities in 22 of Ethiopia’s largest cities to provide funding and technical support for essential tasks. Procuring chemicals and reagents that remove impurities and maintaining back-up power generators may not be immediately obvious interventions for a pandemic response.  But they are, however, extremely important to provide water fit for consumption.

The World Bank is also working with the government to identify additional border cities that need critical support. These cities regularly receive an influx of travelers and goods – most of Ethiopia’s supplies come by land from neighboring countries, which have higher COVID19 caseloads – so these border communities require support and WASH services to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Both AAWSA and secondary city utilities also benefit from the hard work of sanitation workers in small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Ethiopia’s sanitation workforce bridges the gap between sanitation infrastructure and the provision of public services. The World Bank is working with government to mitigate occupational and environmental health risks for these essential members of the response efforts.

The nature of such complex work and the rapidly changing picture of localized outbreaks and resource shortfalls mean that coordination is vital. That’s why the World Bank has established a WASH COVID coordination platform that meets virtually three times a week to help the government, local entities and NGOs work closely together. This mechanism means they all can provide updates as well as coordinate complementary support to ensure the optimal use of resources and timely responses.

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World Bank

The Global Water Security and Sanitation Partnership (GWSP) is supporting Ethiopia as a priority country, where some of its most innovative interventions and approaches are tested, refined and scaled-up. GWSP has enabled the project to conduct rapid sanitation assessments for all of the cities supported to identify a pipeline of sanitation investments tailored to each city’s needs. In addition, GWSP support is helping cities develop business plans and strategies to improve operational efficiency and reduce the losses from water leaks, services not being invoiced to customers, or both.

GWSP has also supported field-level leadership trainings in partnership with the Vitens Water Worx Project, a collective of public water operators, along with international study exchanges to help embed best practice into implementation.

In parallel, the recently approved COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project is supporting communications and information outreach activities to encourage behavioral change around handwashing and sanitation. The One WASH—Consolidated Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene Account Project is also funding the dissemination of hygiene promotion and behavior change materials. The business community are playing their part too – handwashing stations are now positioned at the entrance to many banks so that customers can maintain good hygiene habits.

Helping water utilities deliver clean and reliable water, providing sanitation to those who need it most, and promoting handwashing behavior change – these are actions that can help protect people in the short term and help prevent outbreaks in the years to come.


UNESCO supported the Ethiopian Community Radio Network in establishing a digital information-sharing platform that facilitates instant information access on COVID 19. This is in partnership with the Ministry of Health, the UN Communication Group, Ethiotelecom, and other relevant bodies with a view to leverage on their reach estimated to over 25 million people in the country.

The platform has enabled community radio journalists and volunteers to get real-time lifesaving information from the Ministry of Health and other COVID 19 response teams on updates, data, messages and information that should be transmitted to communities in different languages and formats that community radios produce. The platform enhances the knowledge of community radio journalists on COVID 19 and empowers them to be creative in producing programmes that educate communities at individuals and community levels.

“This platform enhanced our production and relived our burden of receiving information from the third party which may not be accurate and timely” asserts Esmael Tuha, a journalist and manager of Argoba Community radio 98.6 FM which is located on the border of Amhara and Afar regional states and broadcasts 56 hours per week in Amharic, Argoba and Afar languages.

Through messages that are channelled directly from national and international authorities on COVID-19 sources, the community radios are also contributing to the fight against infodemic that is prevalent mostly in social media channels.

This initiative is responding to needs of communities in remote parts of Ethiopia and most rural areas who lack access to relevant and quality information due to their geographical locations unreachable to broadcasting signals of the mainstream radio and television channels and printed media circulations. Moreover, most of these communities information that is critical to their need is mostly not available in their languages. Community radio stations have therefore become the most viable and only available source of quality and relevant information including about COVID 19.

The community radios are disseminating key messages on COVID 19 pandemic and informing and educating their communities on measures and guidelines that members of the communities should comply with to protect themselves and their communities from the pandemic, and filling an important gap due to their remote locations and limited access to communication platforms including digital means.

The Ministry of Health continuously publishes updates, messages and information to media including the community media on COVID 19 status in the country and the government announcements such as “stay at home” and “keep your physical distance”. These messages are reaching communities in remote areas and in a timely manner, thanks to the established community media platform.

Alemshet Teshome from Haramaya Community radio 91.5 FM noted that the community radio broadcasts programmes in Amharic and Afan Oromo languages for 8hrs a day reaching about 2 million people living in Eastern Harrarghe, Harari and Dire Dawa areas. He said that if the information is availed in Afan Oromo in Addition to Amharic, it will save them limited resources for translation and enhance the quality of the messages.

UNESCO is closely working with several partners to increase the number of languages used in sharing information on the platform, from two to five major languages and strengthen further the capacity of community radio journalists on COVID 19 programming.

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June 11th, 2020|Blog|