ADDIS ABABA, March 30, 2021 - As the third wave of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic ripples across the continent, Ethiopians are hopeful that relief and protection are on the way. With a population of 112 million, and a health system that is increasingly stretched, Ethiopia has been working rapidly to strengthen prevention activities, improve rapid detection, and implement a strong national COVID-19 deployment and vaccination plan that is in line with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidance.
Ethiopia’s rapid mobilization and implementation of a COVID-19 emergency response is the fruit of concerted efforts between the Ethiopian government and the World Bank under the COVID-19 Emergency Response Project approved last spring. Through the project, the government swiftly adopted public measures to contain the spread of the pandemic in throughout the country. These measures included substantially increasing laboratory and testing capacity, mandatory screening at points of entry, rigorous surveillance and contact-tracing, strategic communication and community engagement campaigns, and the establishment of 332 isolation, 50 quarantine, and 64 treatment centers.
The $82.6 million Ethiopia COVID-19 Emergency Response Project is one of 40 projects in Africa that draws from the $160 billion Global COVID-19 Fast Track Facility which uses a multiphase programmatic approach to tackle the rapidly evolving health crisis. As the project enters its second phase, and COVID-19 vaccines have come on the market, its focus now turns to supporting the expansion of a sustained and comprehensive pandemic response that includes vaccination.
“Access to COVID-19 vaccines is critical to preventing more suffering and fatalities, and accelerating economic and social recovery in Ethiopia. This new phase of the Ethiopia COVID-19 Emergency Response Project presents an opportunity to strengthen our response to COVID-19 and execute an unprecedented vaccine rollout,” said Dr. Lia Tadesse, Ethiopia’s Minister of Health.
The country received its first batch of 2.2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from the COVAX facility on March 7, 2021 and vaccination activities launched on March 13, 2021 at the national and regional level. In an effort to accelerate fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, the World Bank is providing additional financing in the form of a grant totaling $207 million to finance vaccine acquisition and deployment and strengthen the vaccination system under the parent project. This financing is part of the $12 billion envelope approved by the World Bank to support developing countries in their vaccination efforts.
“This additional financing will contribute to affordable and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and effective vaccine deployment in Ethiopia by providing upfront financing to help the government of Ethiopia purchase and deploy COVID-19 vaccines and strengthen critical health systems,” said Ousmane Dione, World Bank Country Director for Eritrea, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Sudan, in the Eastern and Southern Africa Region.
Furthermore, it will enable the acquisition of vaccines from a range of sources to support Ethiopia’s objective to have a portfolio of options to access vaccines under the right conditions. The World Bank is supporting the country to source vaccines through the COVAX facility as a priority, but will also support the country in accessing vaccines beyond COVAX as needed.
The road ahead will not be easy. COVID-19 cases and deaths have dramatically increased in Ethiopia (as of the end of March, there were 94,524 cases and 2,741 deaths reported in Ethiopia), as has COVID’s economic and social impact given the closures of schools and businesses. Conflict, extensive flooding and the historic, devastating locust outbreak have exacerbated the humanitarian impacts. This additional financing will provide a critical boost to Ethiopia’s vaccination efforts across the country, and in areas with security challenges such as Tigray, a dedicated strategy to vaccinate the most vulnerable members of the population, including those in IDP camps, is under development. COVID-19 vaccine deployment will be a truly monumental effort for Ethiopia, however the economic and health benefits of this effort will mitigate the negative impacts of the pandemic and help Ethiopia return to an inclusive economic growth path.
The World Bank working in collaboration with the WHO, UNICEF and other development partners, is committed to helping the Ethiopian government to overcome bottlenecks in the area of planning and management, supply and distribution, program delivery, systems and infrastructure as identified in the COVID-19 vaccine readiness assessment in the country. This new phase and additional financing will provide vital support and investments to bring immunization systems and service delivery capacity to the level required to successfully deliver COVID-19 vaccines to every Ethiopian.