It’s no secret we’re all dealing with our own individual struggles these days in the face of the Coronavirus. Every country, family, and person in the world is somehow being affected by this pandemic. And while I once thought, Ethiopia would be spared. The country now faces potentially devastating effects from COVID-19.
On April 18, Ethiopia had 108 confirmed cases and 3 deaths from COVID-19, though many suspect these numbers are significantly underreported for a few reasons.
First, respiratory diseases are incredibly common in Ethiopia already. Ethiopia Insight reports that lower-respiratory infections are the third-leading cause of death in the country, so it’s likely many are suffering from the virus but ignoring the symptoms because they’re more commonplace.
Additionally, cultural differences make it difficult to track specifically how the virus is affecting Ethiopia. Although hand hygiene is becoming more routine in Addis Ababa, physical contact is a frequent experience in the city. Many shake hands or embrace upon greeting one another, and not to do so is considered a slight. Others might view a refusal to shake hands as an accusation that they have the virus. It’s also acceptable to share food and eat with your fingers, which is not recommended.
The perceived stigma around the virus is not necessarily causing people to take more precautions. Experts suspect many will hide symptoms of the coronavirus rather than see a doctor so that others don’t know. Given that Addis Ababa is home to the biggest airport in Africa and is considered the hub for travel to many of the other African countries, this is cause for worry.
In addition to the virus, attacks on foreigners have increased because many Ethiopian cities (correctly) assume the virus came from outside the country. We’ve heard this from our contacts who are in Ethiopia, and it was also reported in The Hill.
Of course, those who live in the rural areas are having a much different experience than those who live in the city. In rural areas, the virus is more feared than anything. Many Ethiopians aren’t receiving the correct information on the virus, or any information at all. Several of the rural towns surrounding Addis Ababa have created self-imposed border cut-offs, meaning food grown in the rural areas is not getting to the city. For a country where 8 million people are considered food insecure and 8 million people require food assistance, food shortages are a daily fight. With COVID-19 slowing the supply chain, the effects on Ethiopian families could be deadly.
This is a huge cause for concern for the city, which relies heavily on food from rural areas to survive. For many in the city, misinformation has caused a lack of fear of the virus, according to Ethiopia Insight. This may make some of the citizens less careful, and more concerned about getting food than social distancing.
We’ve been keeping in touch with our partners, A Glimmer of Hope and Addis Jemari, about the situation on the ground there. A Glimmer of Hope is a nonprofit that typically focuses on the rural areas, while Addis Jemari works directly in Addis Ababa, the country’s capital.
In response to COVID-19, A Glimmer of Hope is currently sheltering in place and not doing any work in the rural areas. They are headquartered in the city and cannot travel the long hours necessary to continue projects, so they’ve all been placed on hold. While the remote rural areas have not yet seen the same spread as the capital city, Glimmer is taking the necessary precautions to prevent transmission.
Addis Jemari’s FEP Center and Charlie’s Library and Tutoring Center are still operating, but only 3 days a week for the families in an effort to minimize the spread of the virus but still provide much needed services and meals. The focus right now is to address the larger hunger issue and then hygiene to keep their families healthy and safe.
For their Family Empowerment Program, Addis Jemari has secured 3 months of food in anticipation of a shelter in place. And as a way to encourage and promote their hygiene program, they have been able to give each family 3 bars of soap. Luckily, the families have also been gifted rain barrels recently. So the hope is that families will be able to wash hands frequently with water collected from rain barrels, though right now is the country’s dry season.
But one can imagine as a first-world citizen, how long would 3 bars of soap meant for cleaning ourselves, children, clothing and all other items last us? And in the face of a virus that spreads through contact with contaminated surfaces, Ethiopia is at risk for rapid spread with such limited resources and densely populated areas of Addis Ababa.
Unfortunately, right now all we can do is wait. It’s difficult to get supplies over to Ethiopia right now, and many of the supplies they need are ones that the U.S. is low on as well: sanitizer, toilet paper and other hygiene goods. We will continue to keep you updated on how you can help these two incredible organizations. In the meantime, please stay safe and socially distant!