In eastern Chad, Dr José Mathieu Mba Bekolo, UN Volunteer Associate Public Health Officer with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), coordinates health projects in the region of Ouaddaï. The area hosts around 132,000 mostly Sudanese refugees in the five camps of Farchana, Treguine, Bredjing, Gaga and Moura.
The Chadian government confirmed the first case of COVID-19 within its borders on 19 March 2020. At the time, Dr Mba, who is a medical doctor and public health specialist, was already working on response plans and sensitization measures for refugees in Ouaddaï.
Dr. Mba’s role with UNHCR is to coordinate and implement various health projects with national and international partners to address refugee health issues. These projects range from providing accessible primary health care to refugees, to treating cases of infant and young child malnutrition. With the global COVID-19 pandemic, prevention training has become part of his regular routine, as he knows that people living in the refugee camps are amongst the most vulnerable.
In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, we are all vulnerable. The virus has shown that it does not discriminate – but many refugees, those forcibly displaced, the stateless and migrants are at heightened risk. --Joint statement of UNHCR,the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and World Health Organization (WHO), dated 31 March 2020
As gatherings of large groups are currently prohibited in Chad, UNHCR started sensitization training in smaller groups with community leaders, who will inturn disseminate the messages amongst their communities. Dr Mba is now heavily involved in response plans with the aim to raise awareness on COVID-19 and how to protect oneself by following hygiene measures.
One of his main tasks is to produce awareness-raising materials and train members of the refugee camps he serves. During these training sessions, Dr Mba demonstrates preventive practices against COVID-19, such as hand washing, how to wear a mask, and social distancing. Nonetheless, these measures are not always easy to fulfill in the context of the refugee camps.
According to Dr. Mba, it is essential not to remain theoretical, but to show the key measures to face the pandemic in practice. To this end, he plans on extending the training and door-to-door awareness training with health assistants to reach as many people as possible directly.
His motivation to become a UN Volunteer was based on his ideal to help vulnerable populations – namely those who need assistance most, especially in the Sub-Saharan region. This motivation is the driver of his engagement against COVID-19:
We must be proactive and not reactive in the face of this pandemic. It has a significant impact on mortality, especially for the most vulnerable populations. Despite the hardships and challenges, I am eager to contribute to this strategy. --Dr José Mathieu Mba Bekolo, UN Volunteer Associate Public Health Officer with UNHCR