Feature: A Chinese woman's commitment to COVID-19 prevention at Rwandan refugee camp


By Xinhua writer Lyu Tianran

KIGALI, Sept. 14 (Xinhua) -- In Rwanda's far western region Karongi, a multi-disciplinary working group had been actively improving sanitary condition and health awareness among refugees at a hilltop refugee camp, Kiziba.

Zhu Ruizhi, 28, is the point woman of the group. Zhu first came to the central African country in Apirl 2019 and serves as associate protection officer at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Karongi Field Office.

Opened in 1996, Kiziba is the oldest existing refugee camp in Rwanda that houses about 17,000 refugees, mainly from the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The high density of population at the camp has made Zhu Ruizhi concerned amid the COVID-19 pandemic. During her vacation in China that ended in late February, Zhu made up her mind to promote sanitary condition and raise awareness at the remote refugee camp.

Soon after returning to Rwanda, Zhu, under self-quarantine, initiated a health working group that composes staff of UNHCR and its partners, which she co-chaired later.

The working group inspected sanitary and water supply facilities at Kiziba, as well as interviewed refugees about their hygiene habits. It also checked sanitary conditions of a school feeding project at schools.

Based on the group's findings and recommendations, partners of the UN refugee agency rehabilitated the water supply and sanitary facilities at the camp before the first COVID-19 case reported in Rwanda on March 14.

Zhu and her colleagues also established a health and hygiene mobilizer group consisting of refugees to disseminate information on COVID-19 prevention at Kiziba camp, which has played a significant role in COVID-19 prevention at the camp during the COVID-19 pandemic in Rwanda.

"There are more than 17,000 refugees at the camp, which is a huge responsibility for humanitarian workers. We need to work actively to strengthen the protection measures," Zhu explained reasons of proactively proposing and taking part in community work in the face of novel coronavirus.

"Their good preparation for the COVID-19 can also ensure my safety... No one can be isolated from others during the pandemic," said Zhu, who is also a doctoral student of China's Peking University.

The community-based sensitization strategy has proved successful and improved knowledge about the COVID-19 among the refugees, according to a study conducted from May to July on Kiziba refugees about knowledge, practice and attitude towards the COVID-19.

This research was proposed by Zhu, collaborating with an international university and public health colleagues, who surveyed over 400 refugees from Kiziba through telephone interviews.

The respondents correctly answered over 95 percent of questions related to symptoms, preventive measures and infection routes of COVID-19, the results showed.

Some of the respondents clearly indicated that their knowledge on COVID-19 came from the health and hygiene refugee community mobilizer group trained and organized by the working group Zhu took part in.

Besides the field work inside the refugee camp, Zhu and her colleagues set up an SMS group bringing together refugee leaders to share them information on the COVID-19 pandemic, and opened a hotline for refugees promote two-way communication during the pandemic.

Zhu also motivated refugees who are talented in music to promote preventive measures against COVID-19 at the refugee camp, an easier way to draw refugees' attention.

"Although refugee issues cannot be solved by individuals, I want to do something for this group of people and make the world better," Zhu told her motivation of joining the UN refugee agency.

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