By Millicent Zighe
Burundi’s government has been accused of blocking humanitarian workers from providing assistance to victims of the COVID-19 pandemic in 10 isolation centres around the country.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) revealed that workers from the World Health Organization were only made aware of one site, a hotel in Bujumbura, and blocked from seeing any of the other sites but the President’s spokesperson, Claude Karerwa Ndenzako, termed the claims as false.
The Government has reportedly failed to provide adequate food, health care, hygiene and sanitation services in the existing facilities including the main treatment centre Prince Louis Rwagasore Clinic, schools and public buildings. Worse still the centres are reportedly crowded and not conducive to isolation or social distancing.
People in isolation centers are forced to pay money or risk being transferred to jail. “I share a room with six others, so we split the fee of 10,000 Burundian Francs (approximately US$5) a day. There are people sleeping outside, but they have been told they will also have to pay,” a young man in quarantine at a hotel in Kobero, Muyinga Province, revealed. Similar incidents were reported in Ngozi paramedical school where security forces prevented Burundian Red Cross staff from accessing the facility to distribute food.
Authorities have also been breaching the discharge protocol from mandatory quarantine by releasing some people before they complete the regulation 14 days.
In Giteranyi, Muyinga province, for example, over 100 people including children held in isolation centers without food were released after spending a few days in the facility.
“Human Rights Watch has never said anything positive on Burundi. Those allegations are pure lies and come from bad faith. The government of Burundi has taken serious measures to combat the coronavirus and you will see proof of this by the results we will achieve,” said Ndenzako.
workers have warned that Burundi is not performing enough tests to determine the rate of infection and transmission. The East African nation has reported relatively low cases of the virus with only five people testing positive.
Authorities have attributed the low cases to “God’s protection”, saying there’s no cause for alarm.
“Do not be afraid. God loves Burundi and if there are people who have tested positive, it is so that God may manifest his power in Burundi,” said General Evariste Ndayishimiye, the presidential candidate for the ruling CNDD-FDD party in the May 2020 elections.
Almost 2,081,969 people have tested positive for the coronavirus affected globally since it was detected in December 2019 in Wuhan, China.
Concerns have been raised over the exact number of confirmed cases with some accusing the authorities of doctoring figures and concealing information on Covid-19 pandemic. The top Burundi leadership’s sudden interest in controlling the narrative on the severity of the disease in the country has set tongues wagging.
A stern warning was issued against those taking safety measures before the government said so.
“Burundi’s government needs to protect people’s health and welfare, and any interventions should be in line with international human rights standards. It’s critically important for the authorities to ensure unfettered access to humanitarian organizations in this time of crisis.” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa Director at Human Rights Watch.
A diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because he has not been cleared by his government to comment, said that the decisions made by the [Burundi] government have been largely political and not based on public health doctrines.
Burundi has reiterated that the May elections will go on as planned. Campaigns have been going on around the country with Evariste Ndayishimiye and the opposition coalition’s Agathon Rwasa holding rival rallies.