Rwanda tests peacekeepers in South Sudan

Saturday June 13 2020

Rwanda UN peacekeepers.

Rwanda UN peacekeepers on duty in Juba, South Sudan. Rwanda began testing its peacekeepers for Covid-19. PHOTO | AFP 

IVAN R. MUGISHA
By IVAN R. MUGISHA
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United Nations peacekeeping missions have had to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic by including mitigation measures against the spread of coronavirus where they serve.

But this has exposed the officers to the virus as they help people in conflict communities.

Rwanda’s second coronavirus victim, Enid Mbabazi, was a peacekeeper with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMiss).

Rwanda’s Ministry of Health last week announced that Ms Mbabazi, who had been evacuated for further treatment, succumbed to the virus at King Faisal Hospital in Kigali.

In order to prevent a possible outbreak of coronavirus within the mission, Rwanda began mass testing of its peacekeepers serving in South Sudan.

Spearheaded by the Ministry of Health, the testing began on Tuesday in Malakal where 239 Rwandan officers are deployed.

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“The testing of all officers under FPU-1 and individual police officers in Malakal ended midmorning on Wednesday, and the team will continue to other units deployed in Juba,” police spokesperson John Bosco Kabera said.

Rwanda is currently the second-largest contributor to the UN peacekeeping missions, with over 1,000 police officers and more than 5,000 soldiers serving overseas.

TRIBUTE

UNMiss paid tribute to Ms Mbabazi on its Radio Miraya based in South Sudan, acknowledging her dedicated work

Police Commissioner for UNMiss Unaisi Bolatolu-Vuniwaqa said Ms Mbabazi became ill on May 19, and initially received treatment at the UNMISS base before being evacuated back home.

“I acknowledge with profound appreciation the contribution of officer Enid Mbabazi towards the protection of civilians and building durable peace in South Sudan since her arrival in the Mission in December 2019,” Ms Bolatolu-Vuniwaqa said.

Other EAC member states have also experienced scares of the virus spreading within their peacekeeping missions serving abroad.

In April, a Ugandan peacekeeper serving under the African Union Mission in Somalia tested positive for Covid-19 in Mogadishu.

Kenya also experienced a scare when the UN Mission in Darfur reported that two passengers tested positive after being checked on arrival at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

Rwanda has 560 police officers serving as UN peacekeepers in South Sudan, including one contingent that is female-dominated operating in Juba.

Much of their work now also includes sensitising communities about how to protect themselves against coronavirus.

As of Thursday, South Sudan had reported 1,606 coronavirus infections, and up to 22 deaths.
Rwanda confirmed 494 total infections by Thursday, 313 recoveries and two deaths.

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MITIGATION

To mitigate the risks and protect peacekeeping personnel against contracting the virus, the UN revised its peacekeeping rotation, including the suspension of rotations until June 30.

The UN has implemented strict hand washing protocols, and set up water and soap stations at the entrance to mission bases.

Systematic temperature checks at the entrance of mission bases are now conducted regularly, and civilian staff are asked to work from home.

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