Strengthening the Supply Chain to Respond to COVID-19 in Ethiopia

By Monte Achenbach, Chief of Party, USAID Transform WASH

3 billion people around the world lack access to a place in their own homes to wash their hands with soap and clean water (JMP).

In Ethiopia, the second most populated country in Africa, regular handwashing is especially difficult for the 40% of the population that has no handwashing facility (JMP 2017). To address these issues and ensure the correct handwashing behaviors, especially during COVID-19, it’s critical to address supply chain challenges in addition to using social behavior change communications.

Presently, the Ethiopian population is being inundated by risk communications from the government and the WHO Ethiopia country office, including guidelines on how to stay safe during the pandemic by washing hands with soap, wearing facemasks, and avoiding touching your face. Encouraging residents to practice safe disease prevention measures is important. But unfortunately, until supply chains can deliver the necessary handwashing equipment to households, institutions and public places, it will be impossible for people to practice these recommended behaviors.

Increasing distribution and access to affordable and desirable handwashing facilities from international and local suppliers must, therefore, be a priority.  USAID’s Transform Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (T/WASH) project, implemented by a PSI-led consortium, is working to improve the supply chain for materials for entrepreneurs to build inexpensive handwashing stations to meet new consumer demands and needs.

As a first step, PSI executed a product and capacity scan to identify the existing products in the market, their manufacturers, manufacturing capacity overall, and the reach of resulting products within the market, both regionally and nationally. PSI found that existing manufacturing capacity and product availability was weak—and is now working to rapidly develop new products as well as capitalize on the more promising products in the market.

Improving Product Design and Availability

T/WASH is currently launching efforts to increase the range, quality, and affordability of handwashing products available for households and institutions (health centers and schools) across the country. Drawing on results from the product and capacity scan, PSI is supporting promising manufacturers in order to ramp up the manufacturing of local products and exploring options for manufacturing and importation of innovative global products to bolster supply. T/WASH will also lead a product design workshop with local manufacturers to identify and prototype innovations in the market for “no-touch” handwashing station options.

Supply Chain Development

T/WASH is leveraging its network of regional distributors and retail business partners in 40 woredas across all 8 regions of Ethiopia to strengthen the supply for handwashing products. These distributors operate from regional city centers and sell products to rural retailers. These networks already exist because of the market development activities carried out by PSI to sell sanitation products, including SATO pans. To date, nearly 40,000 products have been sold to households through these networks. This ready-built network of distribution partners with access to products from national manufacturers has enabled PSI Ethiopia to help meet the growing retail demand for handwashing stations.

T/WASH has adopted a “pull strategy” to build demand from households and local businesses, facilitating orders to distributors and connecting distributors to regional and national suppliers (Ethiopia-based manufacturers and/or importers). By making suppliers aware of growing household demand, bolstered by support through on-going promotions, we ensure that supplies are stocked and ready for onward distribution to meet demand across the entire supply chain.

Demand Creation

As T/WASH connects local businesses to improved supply chains for handwashing, we are also supporting their efforts to raise awareness among consumers about local product availability. T/WASH is designing materials that can be printed locally for product promotion, such as posters, stickers, banners, and billboards. We take a generic approach to the products (depicting products that are adaptable to different sizes and types) so that businesses can efficiently promote handwashing as a category while responding to the local preferences of consumers. T/WASH is also merging its existing door-to-door promotions for sanitation products with handwashing product promotions—all with a focus on responding to COVID-19.

While the pandemic has greatly impacted regular business practices in Ethiopia, it has also shed light on the need to improve the manufacturing and supply of desirable and affordable handwashing facilities. Although the work to strengthen the hygiene supply chain is just beginning, there is great promise through the leadership of the Ethiopian Government, USAID and the existing PSI networks and partners that it will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger and more able to meet the demands and needs of customers throughout Ethiopia.

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