Ethiopia’s Unconventional COVID-19 Response
Instead of implementing a national lockdown like most other governments, including in Africa, Ethiopia initiated other essential measures in January, well ahead of most developed countries. And its success so far illustrates how African countries can tackle the pandemic effectively despite tight resource constraints.
ADDIS ABABA – To the surprise of many, African governments have responded swiftly and boldly to the COVID-19 crisis. Ethiopia’s unconventional approach, for example, reflects the country’s limited financial and human resources, as well as the low level of available international support. Despite these severe constraints, the results so far have been better than anyone expected.
From the start, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government understood that Ethiopia’s success in combating COVID-19 would depend not on the number of respirators it had, but on the public-health measures taken to contain the virus’s spread. His government also wanted to prevent serious damage to one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, which expanded at a 10.5% average annual rate in 2004-18 but remains vulnerable. Safeguarding these gains, preventing job losses, and ensuring firms’ survival was critical.
So, instead of implementing a national lockdown like most other governments, including in Africa, Ethiopia initiated other essential measures in January, well ahead of most developed countries. The government then scaled up its response in mid-March, when the first COVID-19 case was reported in the country, and declared a state of emergency only on April 8. Moreover, it has encouraged production and other economic activities to continue during the crisis, thus considerably easing the pressure on vulnerable social groups and the informal sector.