Exploring adolescents’ experiences and priorities in Ethiopia under Covid-19 (2020)

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Nicola Jones, Yitagesu Gebeyehu, Kiya Gezahegne, Abreham Iyasu, Kassahun Tilahun, Fitsum Workneh, & Workneh Yadete


The official number of Covid-19 cases in Ethiopia is still low, but there are considerable concerns that transmission of the virus could rapidly expand in the coming weeks and months and quickly overpower the country’s under-resourced health system. The government of Ethiopia has taken a number of measures, including declaring a state of emergency for five months, implementing mass communication around social distancing and hygiene preventative measures, banning public gatherings, closing schools and universities, and announcing the delay of highly anticipated national elections previously scheduled for August 2020. Transporting links from urban to rural areas have also been heavily reduced to interrupt transmission pathways and several large regional cities implemented a temporary lockdown when Covid-19 cases were found there. While national borders have officially been closed, significant numbers of international Ethiopian migrants continue to return, and in some cases are being deported, for example, from Saudi Arabia.

A decade of high economic growth notwithstanding, Ethiopia is still within the lowest decile globally in terms of per capita income, and the effects of these measures on people’s livelihoods is already of significant concern. The geographical, cultural, and linguistic diversity of the country compounds the challenges facing the government, not least because many Ethiopians are reportedly returning from neighboring countries by crossing land borders and there are inadequate numbers of trained health professionals to support the quarantine efforts for returning migrants.

Global evidence suggests that older people are disproportionately vulnerable to the disease, but it is still anticipated that the virus and interventions to respond to it will have multidimensional effects on young people’s well-being in the short and medium term. Evidence from past crises show that in addition to the negative health effects, we should anticipate more limited access to basic education and social services, reduced household and adolescent-specific livelihoods due to the closure of small businesses and factories and limited access to social safety nets, heightened risk of age- and gender-based violence due to greater household stresses, and greater risk of mental distress given concerns about family and individual current and future well-being.

This policy brief is the first in a cross-country series designed to share emerging findings in real time from qualitative interviews with adolescents in the context of Covid-19.