769,310 Refugees and asylum seekers as of 31 July
37,407 Handwashing facilities in camps
18.9 litres Average per capita water supply in camps
2,151 Health and community workers trained
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COVID-19 Operational Context
The Government of Ethiopia declared a five-month state of emergency in early April 2020 as part of the efforts to contain the spread of corona virus in the country. This came weeks after it closed all land borders and schools across the country, leaving millions, including over 200,000 refugee students out of school. UNHCR, ARRA and other partners continue working with the Ministry of Education (MoE) and Regional Education Bureaus (REBs) to include refugee students in the national distance learning programmes.
As of 07 August 2020, the Ethiopian Ministry of Health (MoH) reported 21,452 coronavirus cases and 380 fatalities in the country, with growing community transmissions of the virus.
MoH and its UN partners have adopted a coordinated approach and are working in the areas of contact tracing, case investigation, case management, prevention and control of infections.
At the beginning of August, the Government announced the launch of a month-long COVID19 mass testing campaign to have a clearer picture of the situation in the country which, according to the country’s Prime Minister, will inform the Government’s decisions in the new year which begins on 11 September.
Prevention and response: The Government of Ethiopia, represented by ARRA, and UNHCR, together with the Regional Health Bureaus and other health partners have scaled up preparedness and the response to COVID-19 in refugee camps and other locations sheltering refugees and asylum seekers. They are improving communication and hygiene, and working to reduce overcrowding to curb the spread of the virus. Supply of water and soap continue to be enhanced together with installation of handwashing stations, strengthening health services and providing personal protective equipment for health care workers, first responders and others.
A total of 37,407 handwashing stations have been installed in communal centres and households in all of the 26 refugee camps to promote regular handwashing with soap. Of these, 36,097 handwashing stations have been installed in refugee households and 1,310 were set up in communal facilities providing services to refugees and asylum seekers. Some 140,000 surgical masks were distributed within the refugee camps, with an additional 200,000 masks to be distributed soon.
Over 2,150 health and community outreach workers have been trained and are actively engaged in awareness raising, case investigation and management, as well as mitigation, prevention and control of the virus. They include 432 health care workers, 16 laboratory technicians and 1,719 community outreach workers who are serving both the refugees and the communities hosting them. In addition, refugee representatives, Refugee Outreach Volunteers (ROVs), women, youth and child committees and other community representatives were also trained and are actively engaged to ensure that basic preventive measures are observed in the communities.
The daily average per capita water distribution in the refugee camps stands at 18.9 liters, with two refugee camps out of 26 receiving less than the minimum recommended amount. UNHCR and partners are working to ensure that all refugees have access to adequate potable water in keeping with the minimum international standards.
Isolation facilities have been set up in all refugee camps to temporarily quarantine possible suspected COVID-19 cases pending their transfer to Government isolation and treatment facilities if necessary. UNHCR is working to equip these facilities and extend support to the Government-run treatment centers which are also accessible to refugees.
Health Impact: Re-allocation of much of UNHCR’s limited health budget to the COVID-19 prevention and response efforts will result in a strain on the provision of regular health services in the refugee camps and pose challenges in continuity of disease control programmes such as for HIV, TB and Malaria. It will also negatively impact the efforts made towards the control of non-communicable diseases including diabetes, hypertension and mental health.
Disruptions of immunization programmes and the delivery of essential health services, such as treatment of chronic diseases will have longer term negative consequences on the health and well-being of refugees and asylum seekers. Once the acute phase of the pandemic is over, health systems will need to maintain COVID-19 specific services with the injection of new resources that were not foreseen during the planning cycle.
Economic impact: Ethiopia’s Job Creation Commission reported the loss of 330,000 jobs in the country over the last four months. This will negatively affect employment opportunities for refugees despite Ethiopia’s favorable policy directives granting them the right to work. Studies indicate a general national slowdown of economic activities and a decline in productivity. This has led to a decline in the supply of consumables and to increases in the prices of basic and essential items. In order to minimize the impact of the economic downturn on refugee enterprises that are being supported by the IKEA Foundation in Melkadida, UNHCR is working with the latter on a stimulus package for businesses to ensure that they are cushioned from any adverse effects.
In the capital Addis Ababa, where over 27,500 urban refugees reside, UNHCR is communicating with the refugees via telephone helplines, WhatsApp and Telegram groups. In order to meet additional expenses for soap and other sanitary materials, UNHCR provides an additional allowance of ETB 300 per person per month to those refugees entitled to monthly living allowances.
Challenges: UNHCR has, so far, received USD 3.4 million out of its financial requirements of USD 34.7 million for the COVID-19 response. The funding shortfall coupled with delayed delivery of international procurement orders for PPEs, medicines and medical supplies are among the key challenges hampering the response efforts. The extended closure of schools has the potential to adversely affect the development, safety, and well-being of children, especially in the camps where schools play an important role in child protection and promoting peaceful coexistence.
Limited testing capacity in the Gambella regional hospital is causing a delay in testing of refugees from Pagak Reception Centre to be relocated to camps. UNHCR has placed a procurement order of a second testing machine with 10,000 test cartridges.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).