“I started my humanitarian mission in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic”

Clémentine Guérin works in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for Première Urgence Internationale. She is responsible for the health response project against the Ebola virus in Goma, North Kivu. She was scheduled to join the DRC mission on 17th March, but with the arrival of the pandemic in France, containment measures and border closure delayed her departure. She describes how she was finally able to join the mission in early June on a specifically chartered humanitarian flight, and what preventive measures had to be taken to limit any risk of the spread of COVID-19.

mission humanitaire en pleine pandémie de COVID-19

Arrival of the humanitarian flight in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, on 9th June 2020. © Clémentine Guérin / Première Urgence Internationale

“My mission was scheduled for 17th March. That happened to be the first day of lockdown in France, and the beginning of the closure of international borders. Première Urgence Internationale therefore delayed my departure, as well as for many other humanitarian workers who were to go on missions to other countries. I was contained in France for several weeks.

Between April and June, we made several attempts with Première Urgence Internationale’s HR and operational teams to find a solution so that I could join my colleagues who were already in the DRC. Commercial flights were very limited and were all at full capacity. They persevered, they really fought to be able to send me to the field, and it finally worked!”

Clémentine was one of the first sent abroad by Première Urgence Internationale to be able to join her mission since the beginning of these restrictions of movement. 

63 aid workers in a single plane

“Through the Humanitarian Logistics Network, an EU-funded air bridge was established between Europe and several countries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. These flights are used to facilitate the transportation of humanitarian workers and medical equipment.

On Monday 8th June, a flight to the DRC departed from Lyon and I was on board. We landed in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the next day, Tuesday 9th around 1:30 p.m.

The flight was in a Boeing 737. It carried a total of 63 humanitarian workers from various organisations (Première Urgence Internationale, Médecins sans Frontières, Solidarités International, ALIMA…), from all over Europe. I was the only one joining the Première Urgence Internationale mission. With us on the plane were 2 pilots and 2 stewards, and also 29 cubic meters of humanitarian equipment.”

Safety, protective measures and quarantine

“In the aircraft, all safety measures were followed at all times. Only one person per bench, instead of 2 or 3 normally in this type of aircraft, and masks have to be worn during the flight. It was not a commercial flight, but a specially assigned flight for humanitarian assistance.

When we arrived in Goma on Tuesday, a small welcome committee awaited us at the airport – lots of journalists, and Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs. We all disembarked onto the tarmac with clean masks (renewed every 4 hours), and after having washed our hands we had our temperature taken with thermometers. In order to have boarded the flight, it was mandatory to have a negative COVID-19 test dated no earlier than 72 hours before departure.

All the people on the plane had to follow the same arrival procedures – a fortnight quarantine before being able to join the mission teams and going into the field. This is either in a hotel or in a single room in the organisations’ guesthouses, depending on availability. My quarantine is a fortnight in Première Urgence Internationale’s guesthouse.  I have a small desk in my room, and I limit my movement to within the house. I wear a mask at all times outside of the bedroom, I have my own dishes, I don’t touch other people’s things…

In the DRC, cases of COVID-19 are still increasing, but at a slow rate. We receive epidemic reports every day, specifically for Goma. All teams rigorously apply protective measures.

If all goes well, next Tuesday, 23rd June I’ll be able to go to the office in Goma and then join the field activities. I can’t wait to meet the teams!”

Like Clémentine in the DRC, several other humanitarian workers sent abroad by Première Urgence Internationale have also been able to join their field missions in recent weeks. All teams remain mobilised to allow these future humanitarian workers to start their missions, despite the unique international context. 

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