Ethiopia COVID-19 Emergency Response

Thanks to a rapid initial COVID-19 responsemany believed Ethiopia might be spared the worst of the pandemic. However, when an August testing campaign recorded an 80 per cent spike in the number of positive cases, the mood quickly changed from praise to panic. At the time of writing, Ethiopia now tops the list as the worst affected East African nation. Learn more about our efforts to protect the poorest as the pandemic gains momentum 

A downward spiral 

As many governments around the world imposed nationwide lockdown, Ethiopia initiated other critical measures that kept the virus under control in the first months of the year. In an unconventional move designed to protect one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed allowed production and economic activities to continue throughout the crisis. Following the first confirmed case in mid-March, the government took immediate action – with 5,000 diagnostic tests carried about per day by May.  

Despite this rapid initial response, pressure to ease restrictions on everything from movement to trade, has resulted in a sharp rise in cases and a downward spiral. Misinformation compounded by overcrowding and poor living conditions has allowed the virus to spread quickly. Fears about job security, peace and harmony are dominating the dialogue in both the cities and rural areas. These stresses are only exacerbated by existing problems including a surge in natural disasters and social unrest that have plagued Ethiopians for months.  

Our response 

Through our targeted emergency responses in Addis Ababa, Shashamane town and other key areas, Dorcas is working to ensure that the most vulnerable people can access the support they need. Our efforts take a community-driven approach and include a strong awareness-raising and financial support component – a vital combination to not only safeguard public health but also salvage livelihoods.   


Following the advent of the first COVID-19 case in the capital of Addis Ababa, our child development and family empowerment programmes were adapted so that we could formulate an emergency response in the city. The response was carried out together with our local partner office as well as organisations from both the public and private sector.  

We have launched a public information campaign to address fear and misinformation in crowded slums and refugee camps across the city. Our dedicated team of staff and volunteers have utilised a variety of information, education and communication (IEC) materials – such as posters, brochures, flyers and billboards – as well as conducted door-to-door visits to ensure we get our message across. We are also providing additional information to the public via local radio outlets.  

Our water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) activities have been adapted to meet the needs associated with COVID-19. So far, we have distributed hygiene kits containing items including soap, hand sanitiser and disposable face masks to 720 households across the capital. Dorcas has set up handwashing stations in public places and facilitated awareness-raising events in outdoor spaces where community members come together to learn how to protect themselves. Our community safety net services have also been strengthened to provide additional support to the elderly and marginalised groups – those who remain isolated and lack access to public health information. 

By mobilising community volunteers and local organisations, we have been able to pool resources and consequently reach more people.  

Livelihoods support  

In the Oromiya and Somali regions people are vulnerable to COVID-19 due to congested living conditions and regular movements at internally displaced persons (IDP) resettlement sites. Many people that live in these camps have also lost their jobs in the informal sector making it almost impossible to make ends meet. This has forced the main breadwinner in the family to take risks – including making the journey on public transport to find work elsewhere.  

We are scaling up our Multi-Purpose Cash programme – run in partnership with the government and a local organisation – to respond to this situation and sustain livelihoods throughout the course of the pandemic. Digital cash transfers have reduced the need to meet in person – and are helping us reach at-risk communities faster.  

These efforts have also seen us deliver direct food supplies to vulnerable households – a simple way to tide families over as they brace themselves for the global economic shock.  

Building capacity of health institutions 

Dorcas is also delivering vital medical and personal protective equipment (PPE) to health institutions in the Great Rift Valley region. We have contributed to the set-up of a quarantine centre that is helping isolate those who become infected with the virus quickly and efficiently. The centre has been designed in compliance with guidance issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO).  

This is just one element of our three-month emergency response in Shashamane town – an urban commercial centre that serves as a hub for many villages and towns in the region. Besides its 300,000 strong population, Shashamane is also visited by more than 30,000 travellers every day. These movements combined with the town’s geographic location and socioeconomic status has left residents highly susceptible to an outbreak. As there is no COVID-19 testing centre in Shashamane, we have facilitated the transportation of samples to Adama town – a two-hour drive north – for testing. We have also laid the groundwork for the introduction of a testing centre in Shashamane which will help us manage and trace the spread as cases continue to rise. 

Each individual response is designed in compliance with official WHO guidance – and continuously reviewed to ensure we are meeting local public health standards.  

Next steps 

“As winter approaches, my team are focusing on what works and scaling it up”, says Fikru Tarekegn, Country Director for our Ethiopia programme. “Thanks to a rapid needs assessment at the start of the crisis, we’ve been able to identify and reach some key communities. We will continue to develop our responses in these regions by increasing our partnerships with local actors. We will also begin to widen our support to other areas.” 

“By continuously monitoring the situation and putting the necessary systems in place to streamline our activities, we can hope to respond even faster when a new outbreak occurs.”- Fikru Tarekegn, Country Director Dorcas Ethiopia 

Fikru continues: “This pandemic is hard to predict, but by continuously monitoring the situation and putting the necessary systems in place to streamline our activities, we can hope to respond even faster when a new outbreak occurs. Capacity building won’t just be contained to what we deliver on the ground – we will also be training more staff at all levels in the necessary skills and procedures to address an emergency of this scale.”  

Dorcas programmes in Ethiopia are primarily funded by START Network and Save the Children and implemented directly with the support of six local partners, as well as individual philanthropists. We will continue to work together at the international, national and local level to provide vital support to communities as the COVID-19 pandemic plays out. Stay up-to-date by checking the News section of our website or visit our dedicated country page

10 November 2020