On Wednesday, the 30th of September, 2020, Growth through Nutrition and Tufts University hosted an online webinar to discuss the short- and long-term implications of the COVID-19 epidemic and response on nutrition and quality nutrition services. The event aimed to demonstrate key lessons and innovations from Ethiopia and beyond in responding to COVID and featured panelists from civil society, government, and academia sectors.
Moderated by Rahel Gizaw, Growth through Nutrition’s Senior Learning Advisor, the webinar included presentations from three panelists and was followed by a question and answer discussion session. The first presenter, Professor Eileen Kennedy, from the Friedman School of Nutrition and Policy, defined the key principles of food security, setting the stage by stressing how the effect of COVID-19 on food insecurity could potentially do more damage than the virus itself. She explained some of the pathways in which the virus has and is expected to increase food insecurity through shutdowns, income loss, and reduced consumption, disproportionately affecting poorer households. She cited research findings around the recent drop in milk consumption especially in poorer households of Addis Ababa as an example of the negative effects on diet and household consumption. It was also noted that decreased food security leads to poorer nutrition status in the longer-term, which leads to a weakened immune system and thus increased susceptibility to the virus.
Dr. Sisay Sinamo, Senior Program Manager at the Seqota Declaration Federal Program Unit, presented on the specific challenges of the virus in Ethiopia as well as the government progress made so far in response. He highlighted the major impacts of the virus on health and nutrition including disruption of health and nutrition services, shortage of essential commodities and PPE, and the increasing prices of staple foods, transportation, and agricultural inputs. Some of the lessons learned so far are the sensitivity of nutrition services to shocks and the critical need to empower frontline workers with tools – i.e. logistics and commodities. Adaptations have been made by the Ethiopian government to respond quickly to the virus’ impact, including frequent information exchange, adapting global learning to the local context, reprogramming activities, and a rapid assessment conducted on the effects of COVID-19. Further recommendations include additional support for community-based nutrition services, the preposition of commodities, stabilization of market prices, expanding security net programs for food access, and coordinating multichannel information system for coordination decision-making.
Following this presentation, Dr. Amare Deribew, Country Director of Nutrition International, began also by presenting some of the global level impacts that affect wasting in particular, such as loss of income, and disruption of the food and health systems due to COVID-19. He reported that globally a 30% decrease is expected in health service provision. In Ethiopia’s case, there has already been a large drop in remittances, an increase in job loss, and in inflation, with the GDP expected to drop by up to 16.7% and severe acute malnutrition expected to rise by 10-15%. A recent IFPRI survey on food security in Ethiopia found that more than 60% of households were unable to eat healthy and nutritious foods and 17% of the poorest households went hungry. To respond to these challenges, he described a multilevel framework of action with actions at the individual, community, national, and global levels. He outlined some of the best practices of actions conducted by the government so far, commending the Ethiopian emergency task force, development of national guidelines, free treatment, and testing centers at the initial stages of the pandemic. He also listed a few areas for improvement such as more messaging around social distancing and masks as well as stronger coordination and additional PPE. Best practices from the countries of Senegal, Kenya on COVID response, and others on access to food for children were also highlighted. Suggested future adaptation is broadly recommended for improving the utilization of data and technology and modifications in wasting management. In closing, Dr. Amare presented the role and response of various sectors in Ethiopia, including the work of Nutrition International, and closed with a few thoughts on the way forward.
Questions from the audience for the panelists covered topics such as the way that COVID has affected the Government of Ethiopia’s planning for the new fiscal year, the changes made to address nutrition commodity issues, the added effects of other weather and security shocks on food security, and whether stay home orders have an effect on child nutrition status, among others.
In conclusion, Professor Kennedy remarked that the information covered about successes and lessons learned so far are extremely helpful and should COVID-19 rebound as expected, will provide a basis to build on and improve the response and mitigation of effects on food security and nutrition in Ethiopia.