If before five months someone estimated that in mid July the number of coronavirus cases in Ethiopia will surpass the 10,000 patients benchmark, it would most likely be dismissed as unrealistic. Such assertions may be considered as optimistic but when one is reminded of the fact that the total number of cases at the beginning of May was 139, not believing in this number would turn to a figure higher than 10,000 in less than two months is not entirely a wrong assertion to make. However, as the country passed the five month benchmark since its first confirmed case about a week ago, the number of total cases has now reached 10,207 with 170 persons succumbing to the virus and 5,137 recoveries recorded by the east African nation. To date many believe that the nation's tussle with the virus has not yet begun. A study released by the The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) based in the University of Washington concurs with this narrative as the center is projecting the death toll to rise to 339 (with a range of 169 to 568). Communications Head of the National COVID Response Task Force, Dr. Tigistu Adamu (MD) has told Addis Zeybe that the projection of the IHME underestimates the figure anticipated by the Ministry of Health suggesting that because of the lack of capacity in the Health system only allows the Ministry to identify a limited number of cases. As such the estimation currently being prepared by the Ministry only assumes that the country can identify only 15% of the cases. Dr. Tigistu also noted that such projections are not without their faults. “As you know every modeling is plagued with inaccuracies and this one is no exception, so I hesitate to concur with the numbers shown on IHME”. The doctor also made a personal observation claiming that he is concerned that such figures could contribute to the perception that the nation is dealing with a pandemic that is not as severe as the reality.The director of the institute Dr. Christopher Murray has stated that he does not believe Ethiopia has seen the worst of the virus yet and stressed that the IHME is not yet projecting peaks in deaths in Ethiopia. However, Dr. Murray also noted his concern that if the East African nation continues to ease its mandates, the virus could spread throughout the nation in the coming months. The study also had some positive news however with the institute modeling a high level of mask wearing in public for Ethiopia. This, according to the study, will potentially reduce deaths by more than one-third, to 218 people (with a range of 172 to 282). In Addis Ababa, the capitol and most affected city of Ethiopia, the culture of mask wearing is one that is encouraging. Even though learning the model for mask wearing was as high as 95% is rather surprising, everyday life in Addis reflects the same truth. According to the ministry however, the model for mask wearing is at 76%. This is according to data collected and analyzed in selected parts of Addis Ababa. As such the figure could rise or fall in a wider scope including regional cities and rural areas. Dr. Tigistu has noted that it is imperative that the public understand the importance of wearing protective face masks while in public to avoid any surge in cases in the coming months. Africa News described Ethiopia as one of the least affected nations as compared to its neighbors in Eastern Africa and other Sub-Saharan nations in an article featured earlier this month. This may be rather misleading. As the nation climbed the ladder to the eleventh most affected nation in the African continent in the month of July with 10,207 total cases as of July 19, 2020, it may be time to reassess social distancing policies and the general health structure. The country’s current internal and external political assignments make the fight against the coronavirus pandemic even harder. Dr. Abiy’s administration is being tested on all fronts. Internally the government is still putting out the fire from the political tensions following the death of singer Hachalu Hundessa that led to the apprehension of key political figures and media personalities while at the same time dealing with the birth of the Sidama Regional State and preparing to enter constitutional clashes with the Tigray Regional State that is adamant on going forward with its Regional Elections independent of the Federal government.Externally, negotiations around the nation's mega-dam project - The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam - reached their peak during the weeks leading to the month of July. The reason being Ethiopia’s schedule to fill the dam being the month of July. This led to Ethiopia’s continuous and rather long engagement in negotiations with its Sudanese and Egyptian counterparts during the month of June and beginning of July. With the negotiation reaching the United Nations Security Council, the African Union, the Arab League and even Trump’s whitehouse, it is understandable that the government dedicated resources and attention in order to defend its ten year project.But Ethiopia is not unique in facing the pandemic amid internal and external strife. The #blacklivesmatter movement that sparked protests across cities in the US and in other countries, the Burundian elections that took place in the middle of pandemic and other major political events have given other nations similar headaches. As the primary duty bearer for the protection of its citizens, the government must continue to protect its people from the pandemic amid any form of internal tensions or challenging international and regional political contexts.However, as the Ethiopian Airline returns to work and other social distancing measures continue to ease parallel to the spike in cases, the proper authorities must give due attention to the pandemic, Now more than ever, the pandemic requires more attention. The only evidence necessary to support the above assertion is the tremendous increment in the total number of cases and the number of deaths in Ethiopia. The media should give due attention to the pandemic like the first few months after the virus was first confirmed in Ethiopia. The involvement of the public sector in fulfilment of their corporate social responsibility by creating awareness as well as supporting the dwindling medical infrastructure of the nation is also another key determinant in the coming few months. Finally, it is important to highlight the role of the public in persisting to take precautionary measures such as hand hygiene, employment of face masks, and social distancing by following instructions from the proper authorities can be the difference between a surge in cases. According to Dr. Tigistu the Ministry of Health is preparing to revamp its efforts to fight the global pandemic while anticipating an increase in cases in the months to follow. He also stated that the health intervention initiatives and communication are areas of focus for the ministry as it prepares to face the possible increment in cases in the near future. The doctor stressed that communications on precautionary messages are key to addressing the epidemic with limited resources. Hand hygiene is one area of improvement according to Dr. Tigistu as the implementation of the measure has deteriorated significantly since April in Ethiopia. Another measure that, according to the Dr, has not been successful to begin with but has since been worsened by the events of the past two weeks is another area of improvement identified. Finally, the growing decline in mask wearing observed amongst urbanites is another area that is of interest to the Ministry as it prepares to face the coming months.
A PIECE BYBruck Negash
Bruck Negash is a human rights researcher currently working at Addis Zeybe as a Research Editor.