Without ‘Daee Bushu’ and hugging each other, it doesn’t feel like a greeting
Residents’ social disconnect during the COVID-19 pandemic
Hawassa Town, Sidama region: Meaza Woldemariam (52) is a mother of four children and a grandmother of seven who lives in Piassa Kebele (sub-district) and Meneharia Woreda (district).
Though her children are all grown and left home, she enjoys sitting in her beautiful and clean garden along with her fourteen tenants who have rented rooms in her compound.
Meaza remembers the time when she heard about COVID-19 two years ago.
“I heard about the virus for the first time on media. I learned that the disease does not discriminate by age or wealth. It affects everyone equally. I was shocked! Then we started to hear more about it from health workers. I am also part of the women’s credit association that meets every week. I also heard about it there.”
Meaza said she has been taking proper precautions in preventing the pandemic since she heard about it and it has never affected her social life.
“The virus did not stop me from going to the bank, church, marketplace, and other important gatherings and meetings. However, I took all the necessary precautions while doing so, such as wearing a mask, keeping my distance, and also washing my hands regularly. Not only do I know how to take care of myself, but I also teach others everywhere I go including my tenants in the compound.”
Meaza has taken two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine already.
“I had minor swelling on my arm after I took the vaccine. The side effect differs from one person to the other. Some people do not feel anything at all.”
Meaza thinks that the virus has affected her community by taking away its core values including the way they do greetings to one another.
“As a Sidama, it is difficult to live without our proper greeting, ‘Dae Bushu’ which means ‘welcome’ followed by an intimate hug. It feels sad not to be able to do that to each other anymore due to the virus since we have to keep our distance from one another. It was one of the difficult things to cope with for me,” said Meaza.
While thinking about the future, she thinks that the virus will not go away anytime soon.
“I do not think that the coronavirus will go away anytime soon. I feel that it will change its characters and will appear time and again. However, it is we who need to adjust to the situation. We need to take proper precautions and give priority to our health. Without health, we can’t do anything at all. We were scared that we will die but we have lived so far, and the government has struggled to keep us healthy in this process,” said Meaza.
Fasika Mulatu (15) is in 8th grade and lives in one of the rooms that Meaza has rented with her mother. Fasika said she has learned a lot from Meaza about the coronavirus.
“I have learned about the virus from Meaza and also my school. Meaza has told us that the virus is deadly, and we need to take proper precautions to prevent the disease like wearing a mask, keeping our distance, and using alcohol-based sanitizer on our hands to disinfect the virus. She also teaches us how to keep the compound clean and tidy by differentiating between the wet and dry dirt and putting it in a separate place.”
Like so many other children in Hawassa, Fasika’s school was closed for over a year due to the pandemic.
“We didn’t learn the whole year in 6th grade and nearly half of 7th grade. I was helping my mother at that time who is selling tea and coffee downtown. But now, we have started our class fully by taking the proper precaution. I have also taken the vaccine at school,” said Fasika.
Hailegiorgis Taye (70) is also a resident of Hawassa town who has taken the COVID-19 vaccine. He has 11 children and 13 grandchildren.
“I heard about COVID-19 for the first time on TV. It is a dangerous disease. It doesn’t discriminate between men and women, children and the elderly- it affects everyone,” said Hailegiorgis.
“I took the first dose of the vaccine six months ago at the hospital and the second one at the health center. I had no symptoms. My whole family is vaccinated.”
At the Millennium Health Centre located in Hawassa town, Health Officer Bereket Samuel is busy giving vaccination to mothers and children as part of her daily routine. She has worked at the health center for about 10 years.
Bereket said that, as the COVID-19 pandemic begins to take its toll in the region, they have done a lot of work on prevention through campaigns first and in giving the vaccine later to their communities. However, they were faced with different conspiracy beliefs at the beginning.
“At first, people associated it with something satanic and resisted taking the vaccine. Also, they heard about the side effects like headaches, and it scared them off. Slowly, their perception began to change, and they were willing to take the vaccine. Not only our communities but health workers were also challenged at the beginning. But as health professionals, we know that vaccines work.”
UNICEF supported the national Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) strategy in high-risk woredas and business outlets, provided sanitizer and facemasks to strengthen prevention efforts, social mobilization through mass media, support operational costs in the treatment centers, advocacy, and media engagement, and implemented interventions in all regions including Sidama to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. UNICEF also has been supporting the implementation and monitoring of demand promotion interventions on COVID-19 vaccination at national, sub-national, and community levels via various community and communication platforms.
The national-level vaccination launching event was followed by regional campaigns. Initially, the vaccination was administered to frontline health workers, support staff, the elderly with underlying conditions, and other high-risk groups to ensure that the limited vaccine supply is utilized wisely. The vaccine effort gradually increased with the support of UNICEF and key partners like WHO, GAVI, and CEPI collaborating through the COVAX facility. The Sidama health bureau received the required doses and started to vaccinate the community.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ethiopia in March 2020, the Sidama region was one of the recipients of UNICEF’s response in terms of finance, logistics, and technical support both at the regional health bureau and woreda levels. This was made possible through the funding of The EU Humanitarian Aid fund for UNICEF to reach the vaccine-eligible population residing in the most vulnerable communities across Ethiopia with COVID-19 vaccines and transmit key messages on COVID-19 prevention.
As the result of these efforts, the COVID testing capacity of the region has increased and the region achieved 99 percent vaccine uptake against vaccines delivered by March 2022.