It’s around nine o’clock in the morning and people are going in and out of a hospital and public COVID-19 vaccination centre in Shashamene, a town in southern Ethiopia more than 250 km from the capital Addis Ababa. Ketema Wako is busy selling raw milk and other dairy products at the hospital staff cafeteria to generate income for his family.
Each day, Mr. Wako sells between 35 and 47 litres of raw milk to the cafeteria. When requested, he also sells butter, cheese, and yogurt. But selling on hospital premises poses a high risk of infection to Mr. Wako and his relatives. To protect himself, Mr. Wako practices all of the COVID-19 protection measures. He avoids large crowds, maintains one metre of distance between himself and others, wears a face mask, and regularly cleans his hands with rubbing alcohol.
Like millions of people around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for Mr. Wako. The pandemic disrupted his farming and selling activities, making it hard to provide for his family, especially during lockdowns. In order to cope, the 47-year-old dairy farmer began to grow wheat and potatoes.
In addition to losing business, Mr. Wako also experienced personal loss. He says, “In August 2021, my 70-year-old father died from COVID-19.”
Months earlier, in June 2020, Mr. Wako heard on a local radio station that COVID-19 was spreading quickly around the world, including in villages. Because of the many myths surrounding COVID-19, Mr. Wako says that it took two years for him to be convinced to get vaccinated.
He explains: “My mind started changing after listening to Fana Shsashaman radio station on my mobile phone. Particularly farmer interviews and phone-in expert advice on COVID-19 helped me understand more about the advantages of getting vaccinated against COVID-19.”
Fikadu Lema is a friend of Mr. Wako. He says it also took time for him to decide to get vaccinated. He was hesitant due to lack of awareness about the COVID-19 vaccine, which he was not even sure existed up to that point.
Mr. Lema explains: “House-to-house COVID-19 awareness campaigns, messages from different people, and advice from medical doctors on Fana Shsashaman is helping many people like me in our area to get vaccinated against COVID-19.”
Genet Ayele is a nurse at Shashamene hospital. She recalls the devastation in the area as a result of COVID-19, noting that the busy city market was a hot spot for transmission.
Ms. Ayele says that, since Mr. Wako and Mr. Lema have been vaccinated against the disease, they feel secure and protected from COVID-19—but they shouldn’t stop using precautions.
She explains: “Getting vaccinated does not mean that you will be completely free from contracting new, unknown COVID-19 variants. I advise everyone to always put on masks and keep physically distant.”
She adds that people should avoid crowded places and poorly-ventilated buildings, and that handwashing should continue to be a part of daily life because COVID-19 is still around.
She says: “Because many people live in rural areas where there is a lack of information on COVID-19 preventive measures and vaccination, they have been hesitant to get vaccinated.”
According to Ms. Ayele, the factors that are hindering COVID-19 vaccination include myths, religious beliefs, and low levels of awareness in rural communities.
Fortunately, though, that is changing. She explains, “Little by little, awareness and interest in COVID-19 is increasing and many people are now going to the hospital to get vaccinated.”
As for Mr. Wako, he too encourages others to get vaccinated, and continue to practice protective measures.
This resource is funded by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada as part of the Life-saving Public Health and Vaccine Communication at Scale in sub-Saharan Africa (or VACS) project.