Burundi has declared the country’s World Health Organization (WHO) representative a persona non grata. Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo and three of his aides; Professor Daniel Tarzy, Dr. Ruhana Mirindi Bisimwa, and Dr. Jean Pierre Mulunda have been ordered to leave the country by Friday, May 15.
This comes just days before the country’s presidential elections amid growing concerns over the government’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The removal of the WHO’s top representative from the small Eastern African country and the three aides was contained in a foreign ministry letter.
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Foreign affairs assistant minister Bernard Ntahiraja confirmed the WHO officials had been declared “persona non grata” Thursday, Reuters reports but did not give reasons.
President Pierre Nkurunziza, who has been in power since 2005 is being challenged in the May 20 elections by seven candidates after the country’s electoral commission said on April 7 the elections would go ahead despite the novel coronavirus.
Burundi has so far 27 confirmed COVID-19 cases and one death as well as seven recoveries, figures compiled by US-based Johns Hopkins University said.
Just in: Govt of Burundi declares World Health Org representative Dr Walter Kazadi & experts Professor Daniel Tarzy, Dr Ruhana Mirindi Bisimwa & Dr Jean Pierre Mulunda Persona Non Grata.— Samira Sawlani (@samirasawlani) May 13, 2020
Orders them to leave the Country by 15th May 2020. pic.twitter.com/TI0avAhGMW
The New Humanitarian reports that as millions of Burundians prepare to vote in the May 20 election amid mass rallies that draw thousands into packed public spaces across the country, many are now paying the price for the lack of control measures.
A nurse who works at one of the main hospitals in the capital Bujumbura told the outlet on condition of anonymity that: “They [authorities] are so busy with the election campaign, [they] do almost nothing to coordinate the fight against the expansion of COVID–19,”
The Africa CDC chief, John Nkengasong, described the sacking of the four WHO officials as “unfortunate”, the AP reports. Nkengasong called for the differences addressed by dialogue instead of actions that compromise the response to the pandemic.
“We don’t have the luxury of kicking out the WHO,” he told reporters. “This war has to be won in a coordinated fashion, and coordination is key. We’re in dire need of expertise. …We encourage countries to do the right thing.”
Nkengasong warned that going ahead with the elections would allow the virus to spread making containment “extremely difficult” later. “If an election is conducted that limits space for people to come together, it’s OK. But if you cannot ensure that … then it’s gonna put you in danger.”
Burundi fell into chaos when Nkurunziza announced he would run for a third term in 2015. The violence not only resulted in the death of more than 400 people, but also the displacement of at least 400,000 people, most of whom sought refuge in neighboring Tanzania.
Burundi in 2018, expelled U.N. investigators looking into allegations of rights abuses.