High seroprevalence of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies among Ethiopian healthcare workers

Tesfaye Gelanew, Berhanu Seyoum, Andargachew Mulu, Adane Mihret, Markos Abebe, Liya Wassie, Baye Gelaw, Abebe Sorsa, Yared Merid, Yilkal Muchie, Zelalem Teklemariam, Bezalem Tesfaye, Mahlet Osman, Gutema Jebessa, Abay Atinafu, Tsegaye Hailu, Antenehe Habte, Dagaga Kenea, Anteneh Gadisa, Desalegn AdmasuEmnet Tesfaye, Timothy A. Bates, Jote Tafese Bulcha, Rea Tschopp, Dareskedar Tsehay, Kim Mullholand, Rawleigh Howe, Abebe Genetu, Fikadu G. Tafesse, Alemseged Abdissa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: COVID-19 pandemic has a devastating impact on the economies and health care system of sub-Saharan Africa. Healthcare workers (HWs), the main actors of the health system, are at higher risk because of their occupation. Serology-based estimates of SARS-CoV-2 infection among HWs represent a measure of HWs’ exposure to the virus and could be used as a guide to the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in the community and valuable in combating COVID-19. This information is currently lacking in Ethiopia and other African countries. This study aimed to develop an in-house antibody testing assay, assess the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies among Ethiopian high-risk frontline HWs. Methods: We developed and validated an in-house Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) for specific detection of anti-SARS-CoV-2 receptor binding domain immunoglobin G (IgG) antibodies. We then used this assay to assess the seroprevalence among HWs in five public hospitals located in different geographic regions of Ethiopia. From consenting HWs, blood samples were collected between December 2020 and February 2021, the period between the two peaks of COVID-19 in Ethiopia. Socio-demographic and clinical data were collected using questionnaire-based interviews. Descriptive statistics and bivariate and multivariate logistic regression were used to determine the overall and post-stratified seroprevalence and the association between seropositivity and potential risk factors. Results: Our successfully developed in-house assay sensitivity was 100% in serum samples collected 2- weeks after the first onset of symptoms whereas its specificity in pre-COVID-19 pandemic sera was 97.7%. Using this assay, we analyzed a total of 1997 sera collected from HWs. Of 1997 HWs who provided a blood sample, and demographic and clinical data, 51.7% were females, 74.0% had no symptoms compatible with COVID-19, and 29.0% had a history of contact with suspected or confirmed patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection. The overall seroprevalence was 39.6%. The lowest (24.5%) and the highest (48.0%) seroprevalence rates were found in Hiwot Fana Specialized Hospital in Harar and ALERT Hospital in Addis Ababa, respectively. Of the 821 seropositive HWs, 224(27.3%) of them had a history of symptoms consistent with COVID-19 while 436 (> 53%) of them had no contact with COVID-19 cases as well as no history of COVID-19 like symptoms. A history of close contact with suspected/confirmed COVID-19 cases is associated with seropositivity (Adjusted Odds Ratio (AOR) = 1.4, 95% CI 1.1–1.8; p = 0.015). Conclusion: High SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence levels were observed in the five Ethiopian hospitals. These findings highlight the significant burden of asymptomatic infection in Ethiopia and may reflect the scale of transmission in the general population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number261
JournalBMC Infectious Diseases
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Antibodies
  • COVID-19
  • Ethiopia
  • RBD
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Seroprevalence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Infectious Diseases


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