Immediately after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Ethiopia in March 2020, the Government of Ethiopia took several public health measures to prevent increased levels of infection. These included closing all schools and restricting large gatherings and movements of people. Hand-washing and social distancing were the main prevention measures that government has communicated to the general public through various media platforms.
Using the latest round of the Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey, COVID-19 relevant indicators related to household access to communication platforms; access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); and characteristics of the home environment were assessed. The analysis shows that a sizeable proportion of the rural population does not have access to the media platforms used to publicize COVID-19 prevention measures. Moreover, without aggressive interventions, current levels of access to water and soap are suboptimal to adopt the hand-washing recommendations, particularly in rural areas. The low proportion of households with electricity, refrigeration, or internet connection and the relatively high prevalence of partner violence suggest that implementing the stay and work from home measures will be challenging.
Public health measures that slow down the transmission of the virus should be continued and efforts to prevent transmission to rural areas should be prioritized. Communication platforms and messaging will need to be adapted to different local realities to make any COVID‑19 containment recommendations operational. WASH-related support should be ramped-up, and addressing barriers to staying at home, such as the risk of partner violence, should be considered. The efforts needed to end the current pandemic in Ethiopia, as well as similar pandemics in the future, illuminates the serious challenges related to WASH and to the inequalities between rural and urban areas that need urgent attention.