In the wake of the COVID-19 induced state of emergency in Ethiopia, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is mobilizing its network of local community leaders to help with awareness and prevention activities designed to stop the spread of the disease.
The so-called ‘community conversation facilitators’ – who have reached more than five million people across Ethiopia with other, non-COVID-19 related crisis awareness raising and prevention activities – and grassroots activists are working to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for migrants, and other vulnerable communities. There are more than 118 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ethiopia, and some 3,000 residents remain in quarantine. In recent days over 8,000 migrants have returned to the country from the Gulf and other nearby countries – migrants who may have been at risk of exposure to the disease.
With the support of IOM, local leaders in rural areas where many migrants or those likely to want to migrate reside, are disseminating information on the heightened dangers of contracting the infection. IOM Ethiopia is providing training on effectively communicating the dangers of COVID-19 and working to promote alternative livelihoods at home that might deter migrants from wanting to make journeys that might expose them to the disease.
“Our community programmes focus on raising awareness on natural and man-made problems and challenges,” said Girma Mulugeta, one of the members for the community conversation groups in the Southern Nations and Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR).
“We will be using these community programmes to raise awareness about the current threat: the COVID-19 virus.”
According to Girma, members involved in his network are health extension workers who have been providing lessons on the virus preventive measures.
“We are now getting ready to cascade that messages to the community at large,” he said.
As part of its response to the pandemic, the Government of Ethiopia is placing movement restrictions at land borders and few passenger flights are allowed in and out of the country. A 14-day mandatory quarantine for those arriving from abroad has caught returning migrants off-guard.
Ethiopia has one of the highest numbers of positive COVID-19 cases in Africa, and accounts for some of the continent’s largest migrant movements. Tens of thousands of migrants travel irregularly abroad often without access to healthcare or medical facilities along the way, heightening the risk. They often live and travel in cramped conditions where social distancing is impossible.
“While migrants face the same health threats from Covid-19 as host community members, they are at higher risk of poor health outcomes due to the difficult circumstances of their journey,” explains Malambo Moonga, the Head of Migration Management at IOM Ethiopia.
The Government of Ethiopia is supporting IOM’s efforts. The country’s Labour and Social Affairs Bureau in one of the largest states has directed community leaders to collaborate with the health sector and to ensure that appropriate COVID-19 messaging is reaching communities at grassroots level.
IOM Ethiopia is currently supporting the Government by providing food and water, dignity kits (sanitary pads, masks and gloves) and transportation assistance for hundreds of migrants presently in quarantine who may need help getting back to their villages of origin. IOM is also disseminating information to returning migrants on the coronavirus using brochures, stickers and flyers in various local languages.