Burundi has ordered the country’s top World Health Organization (WHO) representative and three other experts coordinating the coronavirus response to leave the country.
The expelled officials include the WHO’s representative Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo, the country’s coronavirus coordinator Dr Jean Pierre Mulunda Nkata, communicable diseases head Dr Ruhana Mirindi Bisimwa, and a laboratory expert in the testing for coronavirus, Professor Daniel Tarzy.
In a letter addressed to WHO’s Africa headquarters, the foreign ministry said the four officials “are declared persona non grata and as such, must leave the territory of Burundi” by Friday.
“It is the whole WHO team responsible for supporting Burundi in its response against coronavirus,” a Burundian official said.
“The health minister in Burundi has totally excluded WHO, accusing it of unacceptable interference in its management of the coronavirus.”
The letter, however, does not provide a reason for the decision. Burundi’s foreign ministry had previously aborted a similar attempt to expel the same four officials a month ago.
The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has described the move as unfortunate. They say this is a time when greater cooperation is needed to tackle the virus on the continent.
Africa CDC director John Nkengasong said the continent is in dire need of technical expertise. The weak health system and fragile infrastructure leaves no room for such luxury as kicking out WHO’s representatives.
The announcement comes just days before Burundi’s May 20 polls to choose a new president, parliamentarians, and local officials.
The landlocked country of some 11 million has officially recorded 27 cases and one death from coronavirus. Burundi has however taken very few precautions against the disease. With low testing measures, the public is concerned that the true extent of the coronavirus outbreak is not known.