Burundi: education unionists mobilise to raise awareness of the risks associated with COVID-19 and call for urgent action

published 1 April 2020 updated 1 April 2020

To prevent the arrival and spread of COVID-19 in Burundi, teacher unionists are raising awareness among the general population about the measures implemented by the government, while also asking that the government take a number of new steps to stem the crisis.

According to Rémy Nsengiyumva, President of the Syndicat Libre des Travailleurs de l'Enseignement du Burundi(STEB), his union has held several awareness-raising meetings, through its communal and provincial committees, on the preventive measures declared by the Government.

Representatives have taken the following measures in their schools and communities:

  • Banning hugging, kissing and shaking hands - a measure which has been difficult to implement in Burundian culture.
  • Encouraging handwashing and setting up handwashing stations equipped with soap and water in places where people gather.
  • Setting up a phone number that community members can call free of charge in the event of concerns.

Nsengiyumva emphasises, however, that his union believes these measures to be insufficient. For example, schools have not yet been closed and public gatherings are still not banned. The government alone has the authority to put these measures in place.

“We are currently advocating for trade union involvement and collaboration with the government on certain propositions. We most notably want to recommend closing schools before the worst happens,” he highlighted.

The union is very worried about the prospect of the pandemic coming to Burundi. “It will not be easy to deal with, given the resources we have, and if we look at the damage the pandemic has already done in the so-called developed countries,” Nsengiyumva said.

He believes that if the government and public do not take this pandemic seriously, it will be up to the unions to take the lead on raising awareness.