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‘I exist because of we’: shielding as a communal ethic of maintaining social bonds during the COVID-19 response in Ethiopia
  1. Abiy Seifu Estifanos1,
  2. Getnet Alemu2,
  3. Solomon Negussie3,
  4. Debebe Ero4,
  5. Yewondwossen Mengistu5,
  6. Adamu Addissie6,
  7. Yirgu Gebrehiwot5,
  8. Helen Yifter7,
  9. Addisu Melkie5,
  10. Damen Hailemariam Gebrekiros8,
  11. Messay Gebremariam Kotecho9,
  12. Sophie Soklaridis10,11,12,
  13. Carrie Cartmill13,
  14. Cynthia Ruth Whitehead12,13,
  15. Dawit Wondimagegn5
  1. 1Department of Reproductive, Family and Population Health, School of Health Sciences, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  2. 2Development Economics, Institute of Development and Policy Research, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  3. 3College of Law and Governance Studies, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  4. 4College of Social Sciences, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  5. 5School of Medicine, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  6. 6Department of Preventive Medicine, School of Public Health, College of Health Sciences, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  7. 7School of Public Health, College of Health Sciences, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  8. 8Department of Internal Medicine, School of Medicine, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  9. 9School of Social Work, College of Social Sciences, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  10. 10The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  11. 11Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  12. 12Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  13. 13Wilson Centre, University Health Network, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Sophie Soklaridis; sophie.soklaridis{at}camh.ca

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Summary box

  • Ethiopia’s social, cultural and economic conditions place significant limitations to the use of lockdown as a public health strategy for containing the spread of COVID-19.

  • Shielding focuses efforts to prevent vulnerable people from COVID-19 infection.

  • Shielding empowers communities to stand by each other and harness the power of communal values

  • Shielding protects against socio-economic and political crises that may result from complete lockdown.

Introduction

‘When spider webs unite’, says an Ethiopian proverb, ‘they can tie up a lion’. It reflects a relational way of thinking about the world that underlies Ethiopia’s public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Togetherness is a fundamental value that binds this country of more than 110 million people and is embedded in deep-rooted systems that support communal life. By standing together, we become bigger than ourselves. As health policy stakeholders in Ethiopia, we believe that the only way to contain COVID-19 is to implement strategies embedded in togetherness.1

This notion of connectedness is embodied in the concept of ubuntu, which has been a guiding principle in sub-Saharan Africa for hundreds of years.2 Many great African leaders, including Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, incorporated elements of ubuntu into their work.2 Ubuntu situates individuals within a web of relationships that is born of identifying with others and acting in solidarity. It is by sharing a way of life with others that individuals ‘come into existence’.3 We exist because our social connections remain strong, extending beyond family to embrace …

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