The foreign ministry, in a letter to WHO Africa headquarters and seen by AFP on Wednesday, said the UN agency’s representative in Burundi and his three colleagues “are declared persona non grata and as such, must leave the territory of Burundi” by Friday.
The directive, dated May 12, expels WHO’s top official in Burundi, 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 COVID-19, Professor Daniel Tarzy.
“Late yesterday afternoon I was made aware through a note verbale about this decision of the government of Burundi which has asked our WHO representative and three other persons, one of whom is a consultant … to leave the country immediately,” WHO Africa Director Dr Matshidiso Moeti told journalists on Thursday.
“We are in communication with the government of Burundi to clarify and understand the reasoning behind this decision they have taken. We are in the meantime then working to organise the departure of our staff.”
The letter does not provide a reason for the decision. Diplomatic and administrative sources told AFP the foreign ministry aborted a similar attempt to expel the same four officials a month ago.
“They are expelled and the health minister has totally excluded WHO, accusing it of unacceptable interference in its management of the coronavirus,” a Burundian official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention described the move as “unfortunate” at a time when greater cooperation was needed to tackle the virus on the continent.
“We are in dire need of technical expertise as a continent, which has a very weak health system and fragile infrastructure, where we don’t have the luxury of kicking out WHO,” director John Nkengasong told reporters on Thursday, 14 May 2020.
Meanwhile, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi said in a statement that it “deeply regretted the recent decision by the government to declare persona non grata the country representative of WHO and three of its experts”.
The investigators, tasked by the United Nations Human Rights Council with probing alleged violations and abuses in the country since 2015, also voiced their concerns about the authorities’ decision not to apply WHO recommendations on physical distancing “to prevent the spread of the coronavirus during the electoral campaign”.
BY HANYTA OGBE