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The Ethiopian Public Health Association (EPHA) During COVID-19 Pandemic

By Tesfaye Bulto MD, MPH
Former President of EPHA

Ethiopia’s response to WHO’s announcement of COVID-19 pandemic could be considered reasonably fast and politically supported. Early on, the control strategy adopted has been focused on detecting imported cases mainly at the Airports and isolation of cases, contact tracing and instituting quarantine measures.

Nation-wide state of emergency is declared and preventive measures are communicated to the public mainly through media, focused on social distancing, use of face mask and hygiene. The intention has been to prevent community transmission. But now we are witnessing an uncontrolled situation as infected persons could come into the country through a number of border towns.

It has taken some time to establish testing laboratories within the country in the beginning. Presently the number of people tested daily has gradually increased and the daily case report shows an escalating trend particularly in Addis Ababa. Hereafter it is particularly worrisome that the spread of this highly infectious virus to rural population, with limited health service capacity and accesses, is inevitable.

COVID-19 continues to be unpredictable but the general belief is that it will not disappear within a short period of time. Clustered infections in different villages and towns will occur. Sadly, the most at risk population will then be farmers who are the backbone of our economy. EPHA is among the stakeholders faced with a serious challenge as a lot is expected from it in terms of proactively supporting the health system.

Even though much remains to be understood about the mode of transmission of Covid-19 awareness creation of basic preventive measures needs to be undertaken at scale, based on the lessons learnt from the experience of different countries. Reaching hard to reach localities is crucial before it becomes impossible to curb the spread of the disease to rural areas in particular. Accordingly, Ethiopian Public Health Association (EPHA) should play a significant role in supporting the frontline health workers by designing feasible strategies to promote community participation in all efforts underway to save lives.

There are some members of EPHA participating in different committees established by the Federal Ministry of Health to provide individual expertise but it is the obligation of all of us, members, to propose different initiatives and support our association to stand in the front and contribute more vigorously to prevent the spread of this killer disease.

Finally, we should remind ourselves that EPHA’s role at Federal level is to participate in policy formulation and health system reform activities but should not be limited to functioning at central level only. For this reason, EPHA Chapters at regional level should be strengthened and encouraged to work in partnership with public sector and civil societies at all level in the implementation of health sector strategies, including the efforts to curb the dangers facing our country due to COVID-19 pandemic now.