Jan 27 Webinar: MSF’s Stories of Change as a health promotion method in humanitarian settings

Join the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research and Western University (London, Canada) on Wednesday January 27 @ noon for a webinar on “MSF’s Stories of Change as a health promotion method in humanitarian settings”

Webinar link is (no registration needed or password): https://westernuniversity.zoom.us/j/94114166799


Health-care decisions, such as changing practices to reduce the risk of the transmission of an illness, are not only based on biomedical knowledge but also on local knowledge, perspectives and experiences. Health promotion (HP) strategies should therefore both disseminate biomedical illness information and information that includes local knowledge and experiences. Yet, in practice it remains challenging to move away from the more ‘traditional’ health education approaches to participatory approaches that include local knowledge.

In 2019, MSF provided medical support in Goma responding to a cholera outbreak. A pilot of a participatory storytelling intervention was carried out to support the HP team in their efforts to encourage people to adapt protective hygiene practices. This interactive storytelling method presented an alternative to the traditional HP approach of top-down one-way communication. This webinar brings four individuals with front line experience using MSF’s Story of Change as a simple, sustainable, cost effective method for health promotion.

“We Live on Hope…”: Ethical Considerations of Humanitarian Use of Drones in Post-Disaster Nepal

PhD candidate Ning Wang at the Institute of Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine (IBME), University of Zurich recently published an articles in the IEEE Technology and Society Magazine  entitled: “We Live on Hope…”: Ethical Considerations of Humanitarian Use of Drones in Post-Disaster Nepal. This work results from a three-week field study in rural Nepal, where local population’s livelihood was affected by the 2015 earthquake, and where drones were used in assisting disaster relief work. The article focuses on the ethical considerations associated with the use of technology for humanitarian purposes, and raises awareness for the need of critical analysis in the deployment of technology in the aid sector.

Full text can be accessed here. A related live talk regarding this case study is available here. The author can be contacted at: ning.wang@ibme.uzh.ch.

The noticeable turn to technology in humanitarian action raises issues related to humanitarianism, sovereignty, as well as equality and access for at-risk populations in disaster zones or remote areas lacking sufficient healthcare services. On a technical level, practical challenges include heightened risks of data safety and security, and the potential malicious use of technology. On a societal level, humanitarian innovation may disrupt relations between different stakeholders, may widen inequality between those with access and those without, and may threaten privacy, disproportionately affecting the vulnerable population. Drawing on the empirical findings of a case study of the 2015 Nepal earthquake, this paper presents an in-depth normative analysis to identify contextualised ethical considerations, and illuminate the wider debate about how technological innovation in the aid sector should be operationalised. In conclusion, on the normative level, a prudent attitude in adopting novel technology in the aid sector is required; while on the operational level, proposals for actionable ethical standards to guide and safeguard sector-wide innovation practices are needed.

Humanitarian technology; community consent; technology assessment; data safety and security; regulation deficit; stakeholder accountability

New Publication – Closing well: national and international humanitarian workers’ perspectives on the ethics of closing humanitarian health projects

Read the full paper: https://jhumanitarianaction.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s41018-020-00082-4

Abstract excerpt: We identified six recurrent ethical concerns highlighted by interviewees regarding closure of humanitarian projects: respectfully engaging with partners and stakeholders, planning responsively, communicating transparently, demonstrating care for local communities and staff during project closure, anticipating and acting to minimize harms, and attending to sustainability and project legacy. We present these ethical concerns according to the temporal horizon of humanitarian action, that is, arising across five phases of a project’s timeline: design, implementation, deciding whether to close, implementing closure, and post-closure. This exploratory study contributes to discussions concerning the ethics of project closure by illuminating how they are experienced and understood from the perspectives of national and international humanitarian workers. The interview findings contributed to the development of an ethics guidance note that aims to support project closures that minimize harms and uphold values, while being mindful of the limits of ethical ideals in non-ideal circumstances.

Hunt, M., Eckenwiler, L., Hyppolite, SR. et al. Closing well: national and international humanitarian workers’ perspectives on the ethics of closing humanitarian health projects. Int J Humanitarian Action 5, 16 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41018-020-00082-4

New Publication: Addressing obstacles to the inclusion of palliative care in humanitarian health projects

Read the full paper at: https://conflictandhealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13031-020-00314-9

Abstract excerpt:
Participants discussed various obstacles to the provision of palliative care in humanitarian crises. More prominent obstacles were linked to the life-saving ethos of humanitarian organizations, priority setting of scarce resources, institutional and donor funding, availability of guidance and expertise in palliative care, access to medication, and cultural specificity around death and dying. Less prominent obstacles related to continuity of care after project closure, equity, security concerns, and terminology. Opportunities exist for overcoming the obstacles to providing palliative care in humanitarian crises. Doing so is necessary to ensure that humanitarian healthcare can fulfill its objectives not only of saving lives, but also of alleviating suffering and promoting dignity of individuals who are ill or injured during a humanitarian crises, including persons who are dying or likely to die.

Hunt, M., Nouvet, E., Chénier, A. et al. Addressing obstacles to the inclusion of palliative care in humanitarian health projects: a qualitative study of humanitarian health professionals’ and policy makers’ perceptions. Confl Health 14, 70 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13031-020-00314-9

Palliative Care in Natural Disaster Response

Reports for humanitarian practitioners & policymakers

Dying alone is hard anywhere in the world”: Palliative care in natural disaster response 

“Dying alone is hard anywhere in the world” (PDF): Palliative care in natural disaster response 

Natural Disasters – Report and Recommendations”: Palliative care in natural disaster response. A research snapshot


Key Findings 

The following key findings emerged from the natural disasters sub-study: 

  • Participants described palliative care as a key component of comprehensive humanitarian healthcare involving companionship and psychosocial support for patients and their families, dignity in death and dying, and the management of pain and other distressing symptoms.
  • Barriers to the provision of palliative care in natural disaster settings included damage to health structures; inadequate resources; disrupted supply chains; the invisibility of patients with palliative needs; differences in local cultural norms; the prioritization of acute needs; and challenges of mobility and access to care. 
  • Despite existing limitations, respondents agreed that humanitarian aid organizations have an ethical obligation to provide palliative care.
  • Integration of palliative care may play a role in alleviating distress among disaster responders, particularly those from affected communities. 
  • Participants emphasized that palliative care must be integrated into disaster planning from the beginning; otherwise, it is likely to be neglected during a crisis. 
  • There was a clear consensus concerning the need for palliative care training and protocols to guide practice in natural disaster settings. 


Overview: Focus on Natural Disasters Settings  

According to the World Health Organization, a natural disaster is “an act of nature of such magnitude as to create a catastrophic situation in which the day-to-day patterns of life are suddenly disrupted and people are plunged into helplessness and suffering, and, as a result, need food, clothing, shelter, medical and nursing care and other necessities of life, and protection against unfavourable environmental actors and conditions.” [1] While we use the term “natural disasters” in this sub-study, it is widely recognized that the impacts of natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis are shaped by human activity, degrees of vulnerability of certain communities, and action or inaction to mitigate natural hazards. [2] The annual death rate due to natural disasters is around 90,000 people worldwide, with approximately 160 million others also affected. [3] Over the last 10 years, 95% of the nearly two billion people affected by natural disasters were affected by a weather-related event. [4] 

Like conflict settings and public health emergencies, natural disasters can overwhelm the capacity of health systems to meet the needs of the general population. This constitutes a humanitarian crisis, wherein the health and well-being of large groups of people are threatened due to factors such as lack of access to care, infrastructure damage, and resource scarcity. In recent years, many nations, including Haiti, Nepal, Pakistan, India, and Japan have experienced significant losses of life and devastation to infrastructure due to natural disasters. 

Natural disasters, including famine, can exacerbate conditions in regions experiencing conflict, and are often a factor in the development or escalation of violence. Likewise, ongoing conflict in disaster-affected countries can further limit or hinder disaster response. This perpetuates a continuous cycle of poverty and instability for such countries and constrains the possibilities for disaster preparedness and response by local and international care providers.


Natural Disasters Sub-Study Objectives 

  1. To develop evidence clarifying the ethical and practical possibilities, challenges, and consequences of palliative care needs following natural disasters. 
  2. To inform realistic, context-sensitive guidance, education, and practices for the provision of palliative care during natural disaster response. 


Summary of our Approach

In-depth, semi-structured interviews (N = 20) were conducted with international and local healthcare providers who had responded to a variety of natural disasters. For this sub-study, we included natural disasters that often strike without warning (earthquakes, landslides, and flash floods); those with a short warning time frame (tsunamis, hurricanes, typhoons and flooding); and protracted or foreseeable disasters (famine). The relationship between conflict and natural disasters was also explored. 

Natural Disasters Team 

Team Lead:  



Rachel Yantzi RN, MSN/MPH – PhD student in Health Research Methodology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada 




Takhliq Amir, BHSc – MD student at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada 


Matthew Hunt, PhD, PPT – Professor, School of Physical and Occupational Therapy, McGill University, Montreal, Canada  

Lisa Schwartz,PhD – Professor & Arnold L. Johnson Chair in Healthcare Ethics, McMaster University, Hamilton Canada 

Sonya de Laat, PhD – Academic Advisor & Global Health Scholar, Global Health Program, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada 

Carrie Bernard MD MPH CCFP FCFP – Assistant Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada 

Laurie Elit, MD – Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, McMaster University, Gynecologic Oncologist, Hamilton Health Sciences, Hamilton, Canada 

Corinne Schuster-Wallace, PhD – Associate Professor, Faculty of Geography & Planning, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK

Lynda Redwood-Campbell, MD, FCFP, DTM&H, MPH, Canadian Red Cross International Emergency Response Unit, Professor of Family Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada



Conference Oral Presentations: 

  • Schwartz L, de Laat S, Yantzi R, Nouvet E, Bezanson K, Amir T, et al. Refugee experiences of palliative care in humanitarian settings: Views from conflict and disaster. 30th Annual Canadian Bioethics Society Conference; 2019 May 22-24; Banff, Canada.  
  • Yantzi R. Dying in the margins: Palliative care, humanitarian crises and the intersection of global and local health systems. Presented at: 16th Annual HEI Research Day, McMaster University; 2019 Mar 14; Hamilton, ON.  

Conference Poster Presentations: 


  1. Assar, M. Guide to sanitation in natural disasters. World Health Organization. 1971. Available from: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/41031/10678_eng.pdf;jsessionid =890EB054FAB45D038B5BC2F479F6E813?sequence=1 
  2. World Health Organization. Definitions: emergencies. 2020. Available from: https://www.who.int/hac/about/definitions/en/ 
  3. World Health Organization. Environmental health in emergencies. 2020. Available from: https://www.who.int/environmental_health_emergencies/natural_events/en/ 
  4. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. (2018). World disaster report: Leaving no one behind. Available from: https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/world-disaster-report-2018/ 

Online Seminar – Beyond “Good Enough”: How to Engage Communities with COVID-19 Research Quickly and Effectively

13:00-14:00 GMT+1 (London), June 15th, 2020

Register here: Zoom Registration – Beyond “Good Enough”

This seminar, chaired by HHE’s Dr. Lisa Schwartz will explore the response to COVID-19 and the need for rapid research to develop vaccines, treatments and other kinds of urgently needed knowledge. Previous public health emergencies have demonstrated that good community engagement helps move research forward, ensures it is feasible, relevant, and accepted, and that its findings are taken up. But how can it be done quickly, and in the midst of lockdowns? On this webinar we will explore these questions, and hear from the experts how to bring Good Participatory Practices to COVID-19 research.

Click here for more information


New Report: “Dying alone is hard anywhere in the world” – palliative care in natural disaster response

READ THE FULL REPORT: Natural Disasters – Report and Recommendations

In response to the emerging recognition of the need for palliative care, the Humanitarian Health Ethics Research Group undertook a program of research in order to understand the ethical dimensions of palliative care during humanitarian action. Here, we present key findings of the sub-study focused on natural disaster settings that was part of this larger program of research. Through this series of reports, we hope to present the perspectives of those engaged in humanitarian healthcare firsthand – as patients, host community members, policymakers, and local and international healthcare providers – in order to clarify how humanitarian organizations and humanitarian healthcare providers might best support ethically and contextually-appropriate palliative care in a range of humanitarian crises.


  1. Participants described palliative care as a key component of comprehensive humanitarian healthcare involving companionship and psychosocial support for patients and their families, dignity in death and dying, and the management of pain and other distressing symptoms.
  2. Barriers to the provision of palliative care in natural disaster settings included damage to health structures; inadequate resources; disrupted supply chains; the invisibility of patients with palliative needs; differences in local cultural norms; the prioritization of acute needs; and challenges of mobility and access to care.
  3. Despite existing limitations, respondents agreed that humanitarian aid organizations have an ethical obligation to provide palliative care.
  4. Integration of palliative care may play a role in alleviating distress among disaster responders, particularly those from affected communities.
  5. Participants emphasized that palliative care must be integrated into disaster planning from the beginning; otherwise, it is likely to be neglected during a crisis.
  6. There was a clear consensus concerning the need for palliative care training and protocols to guide practice in natural disaster settings.

Suggested citation: Amir, T., Yantzi, R., de Laat, S., Bernard, C., Elit, L., Schuster-Wallace, C., Redwood Campbell, L., Hunt, M. & Schwartz, L. (2020). “Dying alone is hard anywhere in the world”: Palliative care in natural disaster response. Isis A. Harvey designer. Available online at http://www.humanitairanhealthethics.net.

Moral injury and COVID-19

By Omar Mahboob BMSc and Elysée Nouvet PhD

On April 25, 2020, John Mondello, a recently graduated Emergency Medical Technician stationed in New York City, died by suicide. Mondello was on the front lines of the COVID-19 response as the city faced an overwhelming number of cases and fatalities. Prior to passing, Mondello had described experiencing anxiety to his friends and colleagues, which he attributed to the high call volume, and the witnessing of so much death (1). 

As many countries begin re-opening from their lockdowns, and cases are once again projected to rise, it is imperative to understand the experiences of front-line workers providing care. Over the past month, a team of researchers from Western University, the University of Turin, and McMaster University have been speaking with individuals on the front lines of the pandemic response across the globe. The larger purpose of the study is to: elucidate plans for and concerns related to the provision of care to patients at risk of dying, should critical care needs outweigh available resources;  to discern if and how such triage guidance should be communicated to affected populations; and, identify key social and cultural considerations for this communication and for the provision of care to the critically ill during this pandemic. Although we are in the primary stages of our analysis, and it is too early to make decisive statements on our findings, one thing is clear: many of the participants have described their own stress or expressed concerns regarding the psychological impact associated with being on the front lines during this pandemic. 

Even from the relative comfort of our homes, it is not difficult to imagine why that would be the case. With so many patients in need, hours have been longer than usual for many healthcare workers. The atmosphere is tense as stakes are high: for patients, for providers, for healthcare facilities, for governments and communities. In high-income countries, most have never witnessed so many deaths in such a short time period. Watching patients come in, grow sicker, and in some cases even die without family present feels bad. Personal protective equipment is limited in many contexts. This means that with every shift comes a risk of infection, and passing on that infection to loved ones at home (or sacrificing time with family to limit their exposure and keep them safe). Countless news reports, especially out of Italy in March of this year, and then New York City in April, have recounted the heavy and sometimes psychologically shattering decisions faced by front line providers confronting critical care resource shortages. The need to decide or implement decisions that involve denying potentially life-saving interventions to some patients is not an experience many have faced in our study, but it is one they can imagine and dread. Patient prioritization decision-making, where needs outweigh resources, presents a particular risk of moral injury. 

Moral injury is a term defined by Litz et al. (2009) as an experience that encompasses the following: “[p]erpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations” (2). Although the term was first applied in a military context, extending its use to this pandemic can provide valuable insight into the potential concerns embedded within triage decision-making processes.

In a healthcare setting, this suggests that those involved in or witness to the prioritization of certain patients for treatment, to the exclusion of others whom they believe could benefit, are at an increased risk of moral injury. Allocation of limited resources, such as nursing staff and ICU-care for COVID-19 patients, has been and continues to be a reality in many localities. For critically ill patients, access to immediate medical attention and/or ventilator care can be the difference between life and death. Although some organizations and experts have released guidance on who has priority for a ventilator if and when the need surpasses capacity (3), guidance does not release healthcare teams at the bedside from the burden of ultimate decision-making and action.  Beyond the bedside, there is the impact on the patient and their family. The moral implications and potentially injurious consequences of making or being a party to such decisions is a reality for many health care workers on the front lines of this crisis. A May 13 2020 WHO report on the mental health impacts of COVID-19 cites studies in Canada, China, and Pakistan confirming increased self-reported depression, anxiety, insomnia, and psychological needs (4).

Across the globe, communities are showing their appreciation for health care workers on the front lines. Through the blaring of horns, the clapping and banging of pots and pans, the message is unmistakable; many are willing to stand with and for those who are risking their lives on the front lines. These gestures are important; however, they are not enough. Understanding how the provision of care during this pandemic affects different health care providers and investing in ongoing psychological support must also be prioritized. 


  1. Edelman S, Moore T, Narizhnaya K, Balsamini D. EMT John Mondello kills himself after less than three months on the job [Internet]. New York Post. 2020 [cited 2020 May 20]. Available from: https://nypost.com/2020/04/25/nyc-emt-commits-suicide-with-gun-belonging-to-his-dad/ 
  2. Litz BT, Stein N, Delaney E, Lebowitz L, Nash WP, Silva C, et al. Moral injury and moral repair in war veterans: A preliminary model and intervention strategy. Clinical Psychology Review. 2009 Dec;29(8):695–706.
  3. Emanuel EJ, Persad G, Upshur R, Thome B, Parker M, Glickman A, et al. Fair Allocation of Scarce Medical Resources in the Time of Covid-19. N Engl J Med [Internet]. 2020 Mar 23 [cited 2020 May 20]; Available from: https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMsb2005114
  4. United Nations. Policy Brief: COVID-19 and the Need for Action on Mental Health [Internet]. 2020. Available from: https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/un_policy_brief-covid_and_mental_health_final.pdf

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Omar Mahboob completed a BMSc in Interdisciplinary Medical Sciences from the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University. He is a research assistant with the Humanitarian Health Ethics research group.

Dr. Elysée Nouvet is a medical anthropologist and assistant professor in the School of Health Studies at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. She has a particular interest in the moral experiences and ethics of care and research in humanitarian and public health emergencies.

COVID-19 in Ethiopia: Challenges, best practices, and prospects

IMG_3714 (1)

By Gojjam Limenih

Gojjam Limenih, is a senior lecturer and researcher of Public Health, The University of Gondar and an Advisory Council Member, Ministry of Science and Higher Education of Ethiopia (MoSHE). 


Ethiopia may not yet have witnessed the worst of this pandemic. In times of health crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, we need our health systems to be working at their very best. This means that we need to trust our health system; health workers must have the equipment they need to do their job while protecting themselves and others, and healthcare must be accessible for all. Ethiopia’s health system and infrastructure is weak. The latest readiness assessments from the WHO indicate that there is extremely limited intensive care capacity for the treatment of severe COVID-19 cases if the surge comes[4]. The ability to treat severe forms of COVID-19 will depend on the availability of ventilators, electricity, and oxygen, all of which are scarce in Ethiopia. As the Ministry of Health reports, currently, there are only 600 ventilators for over 100 million people [1,2]. Even securing a supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), the first line of defence at the individual level, remains a major challenge.

Strategies and innovation in the face of the unprecedented    

The challenges our country faces in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 are enormous – however, there have been a range of proactive and coordinated efforts to respond to the pandemic. The government has been mobilizing different stakeholders and devising strategies to contain the virus through aggressive health measures and law enforcement. In order to reverse the rising numbers of infections, broader suppression measures were put in place, including closing schools and universities, prohibiting gatherings and promoting “social distancing” to the entire population. The current focus is reducing transmission of COVID-19 through individual and population-level measures, including personal hygiene, physical distancing, testing, isolating and tracking contacts and travel restrictions.

Ministry of Health (MOH) and National Public Health Institute (EPHI), provide regular updates (i.e. held press conferences) to inform the public. The Ministry is also working with a network of experts to coordinate regional surveillance efforts, diagnostics, clinical care and treatment, and other ways to identify, manage the disease and limit transmission. But hospitals are struggling to cope with COVID-19 as they face bed shortages, ICU equipment and testing facilities. To ease this pressure, shelter hospitals are ready and taken as a crucial step to isolate, treat, and triage patients with mild to moderate COVID-19. Hence, large, temporary hospitals are prepared by converting public venues, such as exhibition centres, into health-care facilities to isolate patients with mild to moderate symptoms of an infectious disease from their families and communities, while providing medical care, disease monitoring, food, shelter, and social activities. In Addis Ababa, Millennium Hall and other large avenues are ready for this purpose, which will help to isolate and treat more people who are infected. Many investors are lending their hotels to be prepared as quarantine centres and hospitals which will be crucial to contain the virus. 

Social cohesion and social gatherings are of great importance for Ethiopian society. Churches and Mosques are now closed to limit the spread of the virus. Instead, the government and religious authorities have worked together to launch a television program for all major religions to broadcast their spiritual education so that their followers can continue to observe their faith while staying at home. Nevertheless, the battle is real to keep people at home when the one thing that is so meaningful to most—their spiritual engagement— has been taken away by the pandemic. 

The arrival of the virus in Ethiopia has also given rise to local innovation. There are promising efforts to promote home-grown production of PPE to manage the spread of the virus. Factories in Addis Ababa and other manufacturing hubs have started producing alcohol-based cleaning solutions and hand sanitizer for distribution to high-risk areas. Textile factories are now focused on producing more face masks. Most of the universities are producing hand sanitizers and distributing them to the nearby communities. Researchers and students at Addis Ababa Technology University and manufacturers are working to assemble ventilators from locally sourced components. Notably, all these fast-moving efforts help to stay ahead of the virus long enough to put into place testing, contact tracing, and isolation, as well as temporary intensive care facilities. However, there is a need to better coordinate these scattered innovations towards the goal of greater long-term effectiveness and efficiency in fighting against COVID-19.

Recognizing limitations and uneven impacts

The present efforts to limit the spread of the virus are very encouraging. However, physical distancing and hand washing, globally adopted interventions to combat the spread of COVID-19, remain a major challenge in the context of overcrowding, poverty, and weak health-care systems.

The different measures in place are also urban-centric educational campaigns through media outlets that don’t consider the reality of rural society. It is only those with the privilege of access to radio and television that may hear about coronavirus risks, but not in great detail. Reaching out to the most vulnerable population in rural areas is vital. 75% percent of the Ethiopian people live in scattered rural villages. It requires special attention to prevent the spread before it gets to the villages. If it gets there, there may not be much room for intervention. Access to safe water and sanitation is low in Ethiopia, which inhibits people’s abilities to limit the infection. For now, the isolation of rural villages might shield them from the worst of COVID-19. But the absence of facilities and services makes the possibility of an outbreak in such areas particularly troubling. 

Another challenge for Ethiopia concerns the feasibility of the pandemic suppression strategies being applied. While Ethiopia didn’t decree a complete lockdown, forcing all but the most essential businesses to close down or operate online makes sense to control the spread. But such approaches will hit some people much harder than others. Self–isolation and staying at home mechanisms work very well to a certain extent if there is regular money coming in, but it doesn’t work as well when so many are living on the edge of poverty. Poverty maintains its deep grip. Many live on what they earn each day, and won’t eat if they can’t work. 

The pandemic has left many Ethiopians with the unenviable choice of either feeding their families or protecting them from COVID-19. The problem with approaches that do not take into account inequities is that these can end up limiting sustainable interventions. Evidently, more community engagement to develop culturally and contextually feasible health promotion activities is crucial in the fight against a disease such as COVID-19 and beyond. 

While infection control and mitigation strategies have uneven impacts across Ethiopian society, the COVID-19 pandemic is underlining the fragility of Ethiopia’s health system. Access to basic health services remains the exception rather than the norm. Access to health care is severely limited, especially in rural areas. The spread of COVID-19 in Ethiopia is as much the product of its fragile health system and social inequalities as it is about epidemic dynamics. 

The pandemic has created social panic, as contagious and dangerous as COVID-19 itself. As the sharp increase in infections is observed, worries ranging from the ability of strained healthcare systems to handle a severe outbreak, to the effect of the restrictions will have on those in the informal economy, play on people’s minds. Unless properly handled, the situation will create social unrest in the near future. COVID-19 is profoundly affecting people’s finances, with mental, physical and social health implications that will linger for years to come. As we anticipate the long-term social, economic and health effects of the pandemic, Ethiopia needs to address vulnerability and inequity to ensure communities rebound. 

The grand lesson? COVID-19 has presented the world with myriad opportunities for revising, rebuilding and renewing health systems. What we need now is a firm resolve and global action to rectify inequity. While it is hard to overhaul systems in the middle of a crisis, it is evident that health system strengthening in Ethiopia has to be a top priority. It is an unprecedented opportunity for the country to dig deeper into what really needs to be done, for the future health of Ethiopian society.


  1. Ethiopian public health Institute COVID-19 daily update (EPHI), www.ephi.gov.et May 17 2020.
  2. Ethiopian Ministry of Health COVID-19 daily update; www.moh.gov.et/ejcc/en, May 17 2020
  3. Africa Joint Continental Strategy for COVID-19 outbreak: AU, Africa CDC, 2020 
  4. WHO COVID-19, situational report, 1-3  www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-may 8, 2020/situation-reports