The Burundi government on Thursday ordered the World Health Organization’s (WHO) expert team coordinating the coronavirus response in the country to leave, just days before the presidential elections, reported Reuters.
According to a Foreign Ministry letter seen by the Associated Press on Wednesday, the officials who have been expelled include the 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.
The letter said all 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 COVID-19,” a Burundian official told AFP news agency. “They are expelled and the health minister has totally excluded WHO, accusing it of unacceptable interference in its management of the coronavirus.”
The WHO Africa director, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said on Thursday the body is in communication with the government of Burundi to clarify and understand the reasoning behind the decision. Mr. Moeti said the WHO is also organizing for the departure of its staff from Burundi.
The letter gives no explanation for the expulsions. Some diplomatic and administrative sources have revealed the foreign ministry aborted a similar attempt to expel the same four officials a month ago.
The announcement comes just days before Burundians is scheduled to go on polls on May 20 to choose a new president, parliamentarians, and local officials.
Burundi’s previous election in 2015 resulted in a deadly political turmoil as President Pierre Nkurunziza successfully ran for a third term that some said he had no right to pursue.
The country with a population of some 11 million has officially recorded 27 cases and one death from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.