In a time of global pandemic, UNICEF steps up response in Ethiopia

COVID-19 Response

By Demissew Bizuwerk
COVID-19 Response
27 April 2020

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic poses unprecedented challenges to the global community. It has affected the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across the world: schools are closed; travel restrictions are in place; and health systems are struggling to cope with the growing number of cases every day.

Since the outbreak was declared a pandemic, UNICEF has been working with the Government of Ethiopia and partners in prevention, mitigation, and public awareness. From community sensitization to the provision of supplies, from involving celebrities and young people to the distribution of soap, this photo essay shows a snapshot of UNICEF’s COVID-19 response.

As the COVID-19 pandemic upended the lives millions of children and families across the world, UNICEF stepped up its emergency response immediately.  Closely working with the national taskforce, UNICEF supported the design and dissemination of important COVID-19 prevention messages in different local languages. The videos and print messages have reached millions of Ethiopians both on social and mainstream media. Tailored messages targeting children are also produced and disseminated through multiple channels.  As a trusted source for COVID-19 related information, UNICEF in Ethiopia continues to provide timely information on its digital platforms to the wider public.

Kalkidan Hailemariam, 15, is the President of the Addis Ababa Children’s parliament.
Kalkidan Hailemariam, 15, is the President of the Addis Ababa Children’s parliament. She shares her experience and message to young people amidst the COVID-19 oubreak and school closures.

We are also involving young people like Kalkidan Hailemariam in our advocacy activities to inform and influence their peers. The 15-year-old is the speaker of the Addis Ababa City children’s parliament. She urges fellow young people in Ethiopia to take the coronavirus seriously and to follow all prevention measures prescribed by health professionals. “It is not cool to ignore the reality and not taking prevention measures seriously,” she says.

She says her routine while staying at home includes cooking, studying, reading, dancing to her favourite songs, and writing essays and poetry. Besides, she enjoys meditating and recording herself on her phone while practicing motivational speaking, something she wants to pursue in future.

Artist Zeritu Kebede
UNICEF Ethiopia/2020/Nahomtesfaye
UNICEF Ethiopia supporter Zeritu Kebede visited families at Yeka Subcity to help distribute soap to underprivileged families and demonstrate how to wash hands and prevent coronavirus.

Our supporters are also involved quite actively in COVID-19 community sensitization. Renowned Ethiopian singer Zeritu Kebede stresses the importance of regularly washing hands with soap. She also takes part in the distribution of soap to community members in deprived parts of Addis Ababa. UNICEF distributed 60,000 bars of soap to underprivileged families like 60-year-old Ayelech seen here. She is on the Productive Safety Net Programme which is under the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.  

UNICEF Ethiopia supporter Zeritu Kebede
Health care workers inspect their personal protective equipment before interacting with a patient suspected of having COVID-19 at Bole-Chefe isolation center on 9 April 2020.
A medical worker sprays disinfectant into an ambulance  at Bole-Chefe COVID-19 isolation center on 9 April 2020.

Zeritu also visited health workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 response. To her thousands of social media followers, she posted this moving message: “Despite limited supplies and other challenges, heroes and heroines on the frontline are risking your lives to protect us. You are only driven by kindness and devotion to your work. We are very grateful. Thank you.”


COVID-19 Response
On 17 April 2020, first consignment of medical supplies arrived at Bole Airport, Addis Ababa, thanks to the support of UK Government. Procured by UNICEF Ethiopia, the medical masks, surgical gowns, face shields, coveralls, and others, will be delivered to Ethiopian Public Health to assist in Ethiopia’s COVID-19 response.

Providing supplies is a critical part of UNICEF’s work. Thanks to the support of the UK’s Department for International Development, UNICEF procured and handed over essential humanitarian supplies to the Ministry of Health for use by health workers around the country.


Returnees in quarantine at the Civil Service University in Addis Ababa.
Returnees in quarantine at the Civil Service University in Addis Ababa.

A sudden surge in the number of Ethiopian migrants returning from Saudi Arabia and other countries during the COVID-19 pandemic is straining local capacities, especially the health system. More than 3,200 returnees have been registered and quarantined at various centres the government has set up in Addis Ababa, including 434 unaccompanied children. Together with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), UNICEF is working to ensure that vulnerable children have access to hygiene supplies and other essential services. UNICEF is also working to reunite these children with their families. 

A boy student hard at work at Beseka ABE Center in  in Fantale Woreda of Oromia State 11 April, 2014.
UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ose

Alongside the supply of critical resources and emergency care, UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Education to restore education to millions of children who are staying at home through radio and TV. Schools might be closed but learning should not stop!