COVID-19 Operational Context
The Government of Ethiopia declared a five-month state of emergency in April 2020 to mitigate the spread of corona virus in the country. This came weeks after all land borders and schools were closed for the same reason, leaving millions, including over 200,000 refugee students out of school. The Ministry of Education (MoE) has initiated consultations with its education and health partners to design a strategy on how to reopen schools without compromising the health of students, teachers and others.
As of 14 September 2020, the Ethiopian Ministry of Health (MoH) reported 64,786 coronavirus cases and 1,022 fatalities in the country, with a growing number of transmissions of the virus in communities. More than 37,000 of the positive cases were identified during a month-long national testing campaign by MoH.
The aim was to gather a clear picture of the situation before the reopening of schools. MoH and its UN partners have adopted a coordinated approach, and are working in the areas of contact tracing, case investigation, case management, prevention and control of infections.
COVID-19 Prevention and Response
The Government of Ethiopia, represented by the Agency for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA), and UNHCR, together with the Regional Health Bureaus and other health partners have scaled up preparedness and the response to COVID-19 in refugee camps and other locations sheltering refugees and asylum seekers. They have enhanced communication and hygiene and are working to reduce overcrowding to curb the spread of the virus. Supply of water and soap continues to be enhanced together with installation of handwashing stations, strengthening health services, equipping isolation and quarantine centers and provision of personal protective equipment for health care workers, first responders and others.
340,000 face masks dispatched by UNHCR to the different sub-offices and partners while other agencies working in the refugee response also provided masks, sanitizers and other personal protective equipment (PPE).
38,648 handwashing stations have been installed in communal centres and households in all the 26 refugee camps to promote regular handwashing with soap. Of these, 37,218 handwashing stations have been installed in refugee households and 1,430 were set up in communal facilities providing services to refugees and asylum seekers.
Over 2,150 health and community outreach workers have been trained and are actively engaged in awareness raising, case investigation and management, as well as mitigation, prevention and control of the virus. They include 410 health care workers, 16 laboratory technicians and 1,719 community outreach workers who are serving both the refugees and the communities hosting them.
In addition, refugee representatives, Refugee Outreach Volunteers (ROVs), women, youth and child committees and other community representatives were trained and are actively engaged to ensure that basic preventive measures are observed in the communities.
The daily average per capita water distribution in the refugee camps stands at 18.8 liters, with four refugee camps out of 26 receiving less than 15 liters per person per day. UNHCR, ARRA and partners are working to ensure that all refugees have access to adequate potable water in keeping with the minimum international standards.
Isolation facilities, known as Temporary Assessment Units, have been set up in all refugee camps to temporarily quarantine possible suspected COVID-19 cases pending their transfer to Government isolation and treatment facilities if necessary. UNHCR is working to equip these facilities and extend support to the Government-run treatment centers which are also accessible to refugees. Recently, UNHCR provided 160 hospital beds and 170 mattresses to help furnish the camp-based isolation centres in Melkadida. It also donated medical equipment to the Governmentran COVID-19 treatment centre in Dollo Ado and 100 coverall gowns to the Gambella Regional Health Bureau for use by medical personnel who are collecting samples for testing.
In the capital Addis Ababa, where over 33,000 urban refugees reside, UNHCR is communicating with the refugees via telephone helplines, WhatsApp and Telegram groups. Refugee Outreach Volunteers (ROVs) and refugee leaders are also helping raise awareness. In order to meet additional expenses for soap and other sanitary materials, UNHCR provides an additional allowance of 300 Ethiopian Birr (US$ 8.6) per person per month to those refugees entitled to monthly living allowances.
UNHCR, and its partners are supporting the inter-agency COVID-19 response to the IDP situation in the country, distributing non-food aid items, equipping isolation and quarantine centers and facilitating communication among communities.