Serving for peace during COVID 19: UNPOL doctor in Malakal joins the coronavirus response
When Dr. Maher Botros signed up to join the ranks of United Nations Police (UNPOL) officers deployed to the peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, he anticipated he would be engaging in regular police duties related to the protection of civilians and building durable peace.
Opting to be a part of UNMISS was definitely a far cry from his normal day-to-day schedule in Egypt where he is a full-time medical doctor working in the police hospital in Cairo. “My superiors and colleagues were actually surprised when I told them I had enlisted for a tour of duty as a UN peacekeeper,” he says, “It is not the norm for us, medical officers, to go on UN missions, but I had a strong desire to serve communities who need our help the most.” And that’s what Dr. Botros did in South Sudan--for the first few months of his tour, at least.
As an UNPOL Community Police Officer in Malakal, he and his team are the face of the mission’s police component both among the displaced persons in the Protection of Civilians site adjacent to the mission’s base here, as well as across the Upper Nile region where they patrol and engage with local counterparts, holding workshops, sharing best practices and developing their capacity.
All that changed when the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. Just like in other parts of the world, UNMISS took swift steps to protect both staff and the local population from the growing scourge of the virus.
“Given the intensity with which the disease was spreading in South Sudan and the already strained health resources, I had to, colloquially speaking, put on my second hat and work jointly with medics from the field hospital run by Indian peacekeepers as well as the joint humanitarian taskforce,” reveals Dr. Botros
In addition to providing professional support, he fills the medical gap for co-workers with minor illnesses who require a quick consult. “The field hospital within the UNMISS base is now managing mostly serious medical cases and emergencies. To support them I and my colleagues are providing consultations for minor health issues 24/7,” states Dr. Botros, noting that many staff and personnel have suffered from stress-related ailments due to the prolonged lockdown, thus making his background in psychiatry an added advantage.
Recently, teams from the state authorities, UNMISS and humanitarian representatives have noted a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases here. A concerted effort, therefore, has been made to provide necessary protective equipment such as masks and soap as well as sensitize the nearly 30,000 displaced persons living in the protection site and, indeed, communities across the entire region.
The State-Level COVID-19 Taskforce has also ensured that high-risk areas, such as Renk, which borders Sudan, receive testing kits, and more than 200 health workers, including laboratory technicians, have been trained to respond to the pandemic.
Within UNMISS, several medics like Dr Botros, who usually perform other duties, have been put on standby for any emergency or eventuality. Given the magnitude of COVID-19, it’s all hands on deck. For Dr. Botros, this is par for the course as he believes service comes first. “I am happy to help in whatever capacity is required of me at this critical time and for the rest of my tour, for the good of everybody,” he says, “I want my colleagues and the people of South Sudan to know that we are all in this together.”