Health Extension Workers mobilized to fight COVID-19 in Ethiopia
With an increase of cases, health extension workers are on the ground to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Since 2003, health extension workers have been at the forefront of delivering health services, including immunization, at the community level. The health extension workers act as a bridge between the community and public health institutions.
With COVID-19, health extension workers have become more critical in mitigating the spread of the virus. They educate communities on prevention and address fears and misinformation.
“Everything has changed since the outbreak of COVID-19,” says Hilina Taye, a health extension worker pictured here on the right as she starts her day at a health center in Lideta, Addis Ababa. Hilina says the health center has put measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For example, every morning when she goes to the health center to collect the tools she uses during home visits, she must wash her hands and get her temperature checked at the entrance. Wearing face masks is mandatory for anyone coming into the health center. She also must wear a mask during her home visits and she advises her clients to do the same.
In April, the Addis Ababa City Administration launched a door-to-door COVID-19 screening campaign. Hilina was among 1,470 health extension workers who were mobilized to conduct the screening across the city.
“Our job is unique and requires us to interact with our clients. We go into their homes and it is challenging at times, but we must ensure that we keep our distance,” she says, as she describes her daily routine.
Timely access to accurate information can be the difference between life and death during pandemics. Hilina’s colleagues Elisabet Argaw and Hilina Solomon also conduct home visits. They greet their clients in their homes while keeping their distance.
During the visit, they teach them about safe and effective preventive methods to protect themselves and their families including about the symptoms and what they must do if they experience.
Adanech Tadesse and her two young children Tewodros (10) and Heran (3) practice hand washing as recommended by the health extension workers.
Hilina consults a new mother, Adanech, on the importance of breastfeeding and practicing safe hygiene. Hilina advised mothers to take precautions such as limiting visits from family members, thoroughly washing their hands with soap, and wearing face masks during breastfeeding.
During the home visits, health extension workers ensure that pregnant and breastfeeding women are accessing antenatal, delivery and postnatal services, including immunization for their newborns.
Hilina checks the temperature of an elderly woman selling vegetables by the roadside.
“We know people have the information and understand how to prevent COVID-19. However, there are problems with implementing the safe practices, that is why we routinely remind them,” says Hilina.
Since Ethiopia reported its first COVID-19 case on 13th March 2020, UNICEF has been providing technical and financial assistance to the Ministry of Health, including providing medical supplies and equipment, supplying water to isolation, treatment and quarantine centers, providing soap, hand sanitizers and other hygiene products, supporting social workers to render child protection services o vulnerable children, and creating public awareness through risk communication and community engagement.