Scaling up coronavirus outbreak readiness in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is strengthening surveillance, diagnostics and medical care and public health information in readiness for a potential coronavirus outbreak. The country is a major African airline gateway. Its national airline operates 34 flights a week to China. The World Health Organization is supporting countries across Africa to step up measures necessary to quickly diagnose and control widespread infection should the virus transmission reach the continent.

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Ethiopian health authorities are increasing epidemic response coordination, surveillance, diagnosis and public health education. Ethiopia is among 13 African countries the World Health Organization (WHO) considers as top priority for COVID-19 readiness due to direct links or a high volume of travel to China.
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As COVID-19 is a new pathogen, Ethiopia, along with many other countries initially did not have the capacity to diagnose it. Adamu Tayachew heads an eight-member technician team at the National Influenza and Arbovirus Laboratory. “We started collecting samples on 25 January 2020. We shipped 11 samples in three phases to South Africa for analysis. The remaining we tested here. The shipment involved a lot of people and complex coordination. It called for working with several bodies to ship the samples and then following up on the results.”
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WHO has sent reagents to more than 20 countries in Africa, including Ethiopia, to boost diagnostic capacity. Ethiopia’s National Influenza and Arbovirus started testing for the virus on 7 February. “The test is not complicated. We now have the reagents and the necessary documentation. Once the samples are submitted we provide results within the same day. Currently we receive up to four samples a day for testing, but we anticipate that this will increase,” says Mr Adamu.
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“We are in continuous collaboration with our partners to support us with reagents and supplies. We have a good collaboration and we are now capable of testing several samples”, stresses Mr Adamu.
Isolation centre in Bole Chefe in Addis Ababa
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One isolation and two treatment centres with a total bed capacity of 109 have been established. At the isolation centre in Bole Chefe in Addis Ababa, health workers are using their previous training on Ebola preparedness to respond to the threat of COVID-19.
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The health workers at Bole Chefe rigorously follow the protocol for proper protection when handling patients suspected to have coronavirus. If a patient is confirmed to have the virus, they are transferred to the treatment centre for confirmed cases at Eko Kotebe Hospital. One treatment centre is for suspected cases and the other for severe and critical cases. The centres each have respirator machines.
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To step up surveillance, a 24-hour call desk has been established at the Emergency Operations Centre in Addis Ababa for people to report if they suspect they have coronavirus or pass information on suspected cases. The call centre also counters rumours and misinformation about the virus.
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Around 60 rapid response team members, including from other regions of the country, have been trained on coronavirus preparedness. WHO has deployed technical experts in surveillance, point-of-entry management, infection prevention and control, public health communication and logistics to assist the Ethiopian government’s readiness to respond to COVID-19. WHO has also provided equipment and supplies, including reagents to test for coronavirus.
For Additional Information or to Request Interviews, Please contact:
Bakano Otto

Senior Editor/Writer
Email: ottob [at]

Sakuya OKA

Communications Manager
WHO Regional Office for Africa
Email: okas [at]
Tel: +242 06 508 1009