May 11, 2020

Joining forces and sharing knowledge to help combat COVID-19 in Ethiopia


As the global community races to slow the spread of COVID-19, Ohio State’s Global One Health initiative (GOHi) and the College of Medicine are joining forces to help partners in Ethiopia as they gear up for an increase in testing and addressing areas of mitigation and response.

Ohio State’s presence in Ethiopia

Since 2009, GOHi has jointly worked with Ethiopian partners, including the Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI), Addis Ababa University and the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health and Ministry of Science and Higher Education, to develop a coordinated and multidisciplinary approach to improve health, build capacity and provide learning opportunities to students and health care professionals in the region.

Now, as this new pandemic moves across the globe, Ethiopia is taking progressive steps to flatten the curve—while the number of cases remains fairly low—with the hope of minimizing the pandemic’s impact.

As of May 1, the EPHI reported 133 confirmed cases and three deaths. However, the country has only been able to perform a limited number of tests due to capacity and resource constraints, with only 18,754 tested in a country with a population of 110 million.

While mass testing may not be available, partners in Ethiopia have taken other measures to fight COVID-19.

Learning and prioritizing Ethiopia’s needs

The GOHi regional office in Ethiopia first worked in partnership with faculty from Ohio State’s CHRR in the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Medicine, along with the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, the Ethiopian Public Health Institute and the Resolve to Save Lives initiative to complete a rapid COVID-19 communication survey, which targeted 834 community members in five major cities in Ethiopia—Addis Ababa, Gondar, Mekelle, Adama and Hawassa.

Ultimately, the results showed that although people know about COVID-19 and understand how it is transmitted, there were misconceptions about the source of infection, levels of risk and possible treatments and cures. Twenty-five percent of respondents believed that they have no risk of catching COVID-19 and a majority believed in incorrect forms of treatments.

“There is a significant knowledge-gap as well as lack of accurate information flow with respect to the various dimensions of COVID-19, from the source, to transmission, prevention and control system,” said Wondwossen Gebreyes, GOHi executive director, “We plan to help them fill the gap to some extent.”

The report was provided to the Ethiopian Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education Advisory Council so that they can create accurate and actionable communications strategies around COVID-19.

Taking matters into their own hands

In early April, due to the critical global shortage of test kit components, a team of researchers from Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center created an in-house “recipe” to make the crucial viral transport media (VTM), a salt solution combined in a specific way necessary to stabilize the virus. The Ohio State team also partnered with faculty and staff in the Colleges of Engineering and Dentistry and several outside firms in Ohio to create 3D printed swabs that could be manufactured in-house.

GOHi and the College of Medicine shared the recipe and instructions for creating tests with the Addis Ababa University-based Center for Drug Discovery and Innovative Therapeutics – Africa (CDT-Africa).

The CDT-Africa team began developing the VTM solution using the recipe provided but ran short of a few necessary ingredients, which GOHi is currently trying to help procure.

“Importing the fully ready material has many challenges including material availability, foreign currency issues and also procurement process delays,” said Gebreyes, “Being able to develop an in-house process will alleviate these issues and build their capacity in the future—as the information shared will be valuable even beyond the current pandemic.”

Filling the knowledge gap

GOHi and the College of Medicine have worked together to extend a virtual multi-disciplinary disaster medicine course to help Ethiopia combat the virus by arming health professionals with the necessary and correct information.

Nicholas E. Kman, clinical professor of emergency medicine, shared his curriculum and is working on modifications so that it can be taught online.

The virtual disaster medicine course will be offered for free to health professionals in Ethiopia as one of GOHi’s Canvas courses and will be supplemented with virtual CarmenZoom trainings that will focus on laboratory testing, genomic and source-tracking systems, and testing ethics.

By participating in the course and training, doctors, clinicians and nurses will be better equipped to handle patients that have been infected with the virus by understanding and implementing correct safety and handling protocols.

Established partnership leads to change

GOHi and the College of Medicine will continue to work with partners across the globe to build capacity, share knowledge and find solutions in the fight against COVID-19.

“This disease knows no boundaries,” says Peter Mohler, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer of The Wexner Medical Center and Vice Dean of Research for the College of Medicine. “We’re all in this together and by learning from each other we can defeat this virus to improve the lives of everyone.”