Stories of Capacity Development: Changing COVID-19 perceptions in Ethiopia through a women-led organization

January 30th, 2023 | Story


At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ethiopia, with more than 115 million people, was challenged tremendously. Reaching key groups in a country in which 80 percent of the population resides in peri-rural areas was difficult, and worsened by the ongoing conflict concentrated in the north. JSI, through its Last 10 Kilometers (L10K) project and with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, partnered with the Network of Ethiopian Women Association (NEWA) to strengthen risk communication and community engagement to thwart the spread COVID-19.

Through a series of consultative sessions with over 850 women and girls in Addis Ababa, Oromia, Amhara, and Sidama Regions, it was found that the low vaccine acceptance rate of the was attributable to incorrect information. These included false claims that the vaccine led to infertility, that the vaccination was prohibited by religious beliefs, and that vaccination is the West’s attempt to impose its values on Africa.

JSI helped NEWA members work with Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health (MOH) to design social and behavior change communication (SBCC) materials and messages to facilitate COVID-19-prevention behavior among women. JSI supported NEWA on developing and adapting guides and tools and conducting research. NEWA collected data and produced more evidence on COVID-19 prevention measures and the need for medical intervention in response to severe infection.

JSI’s technical assistance and NEWA’s research led to a thorough SBCC campaign that included gender-sensitive radio messages, house-to-house visits, and informal community meetings with women. NEWA staff and its partners disseminated SBCC materials throughout key woredas (districts) in the four regions where L10K works. The materials were also distributed to women in isolated rural communities and remote villages through regional health centers with support from the MOH, Ethiopia’s Women’s Development Army (a group of trained volunteer health workers), and certified health extension workers. Ultimately, these combined efforts helped the MOH design actions to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and vaccinate 65 percent of the targeted population.

Photo: NEWA

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