United Nations, Apr 25 (PTI) Amidst the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic, UN peacekeepers deployed in South Sudan have taken strong measures to ensure health and safety of locals while also continuing to deliver on their mandate, Force Commander of the UN mission in the country said, asserting that “nobody is safe until all are safe” in the fight against the contagion.
Lieutenant General Shailesh Tinaikar, Force Commander of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), told PTI that all measures are in place to ensure that the local population and peacekeepers are protected in the pandemic.
“We have taken measures to see that we would be ready to provide assistance through medical care. As peacekeepers, we need to be constantly aware and sensitive of the infection and the speed at which it spreads,” Tinaikar said.
Noting that the healthcare system in South Sudan is almost “non-existent” and hospitals are very few with a huge dependency on NGOs for medical assistance, he said the mission took several steps such as spreading awareness, distributing masks, hand sanitisers and training medical personnel to put up a strong defence against the virus.
“We know that in this disease, nobody is safe until all are safe,” Tinaikar said, adding that “we had to ensure that we are safe and also ensure that we continue to deliver on our mandate. We couldn’t take a pause in that. We couldn’t be lax in our drills.” He also pointed out that among the measures taken to combat the virus and ramp up medical infrastructure, strength of two hospitals has been enhanced.
India had deployed two medical teams of 15 medical personnel each at Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Juba in South Sudan late last year.
India in February announced to gift 200,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses for all UN peacekeepers.
The AstraZeneca vaccine doses departed from Mumbai last month for distribution across the 12 UN missions.
Tinaikar said the doses for the peacekeepers deployed with UNMISS reached South Sudan last week, paving the way for vaccination of the Blue Helmets to begin.
The mission has identified areas, trained personnel, set up logistics and the cold chain to commence the vaccination process.
Tinaikar said the entire UN community of peacekeepers has immense gratitude for this gesture of solidarity by the government of India of providing COVID-19 vaccines to all peacekeepers, a gesture that underlines the importance that India provides for the maintenance of international peace and security.
Even with the vaccinations, he stressed the importance of “not lowering our guard” and ensuring that the message is conveyed that COVID-19 appropriate protocols are followed.
Tinaikar pointed out that as the peacekeepers in the Mission get vaccinated, it will help in allaying any vaccine hesitancy.
“As the vaccination drive gains momentum, the confidence (of the people) will increase. While the initial hesitancy is there, as more and more people get vaccinated and more number of people report that there are no side effects and the vaccine is contributing to better health, the vaccination hesitancy will reduce and the drive will continue to expand,” the officer said.
As of February 2021, a total of over 19,000 personnel are deployed in the UN mission in South Sudan, including more than 14,000 troops.
Rwanda, Nepal, Ghana and India are the top four troop contributing nations.
South Sudan, which has seen violent civil wars since its independence in 2011, currently has about 10,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus.
Tinaikar said the mission undertook measures to ensure assistance through medical care to the local population during the pandemic.
In his message for all peacekeepers, Tinaikar said that these are difficult times but “we've got to endure, have patience, have faith in ourselves. We have to see that we remain safe, and deliver on the mandate through these difficult times. And it is possible to do so.' He also lauded the stellar role played by women peacekeepers, noting that while as of now women participation in peacekeeping is far lower than what it should be, hopefully with time, participation of women in peacekeeping activities will increase.
“I must commend the work that women are doing across every sphere - whether it is field work, talking to local populations, especially young boys and girls, bringing a sense of security, understanding their problems.
“We would like the number of women peacekeepers to increase as contingents are gradually scaling up, and I'm sure that in the next two to three years, women participation at every level - at the command level as well as field level - will increase,” he added. PTI YAS CPS