Members of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) recently returned from Rwanda after partnering with the Rwandan Defense Force and several other organizations to learn how the nation secures its borders against the transmission of disease from other countries.
A four-member team from the 411th Civil Affairs Battaltion (CA), comprised of health personnel and security specialists, joined representatives from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Embassy in Rwanda, and the Rwandan Defense Force to form a “High-Consequence Pathogen” (HCP) team. The team spent Feb. 16-22 reviewing policies and procedures at three border posts along the west and southwest borders of Rwanda to evaluate how Rwanda has maintained a lower infection rate compared to neighboring countries when it comes to highly infectious diseases, like Ebola or, potentially, COVID-19, commonly known as Coronavirus, should it become an issue on the African continent.
“Thanks to our ongoing partnership with the Rwandan Defense Force, the nation was kind enough to let us observe their port of entries,” said U.S. Army Capt. Ryan Dolen, mission commander and team chief of Alpha Company, 411th CA. “We were allowed to inspect their operations and see how we could help other countries throughout East Africa conduct similar processes.”
The border post at Gisenyi, Rwanda, and Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, has heavy foot traffic of residents going back and forth, sometimes multiple times a day, for trade, work and business. Keeping disease out of the country is an important objective at the border posts.
“The Rwandans are very proficient in what they’re doing; they have procedures in place in terms of both security and medical, and we observed how it worked,” said Dolen. “As we look at other African countries and nations who are also trying to prevent the spread of Ebola and COVID-19, there were good lessons learned for the region.”
In addition, the HCP team was able to provide advice on best practices members have seen in other countries so Rwanda could continue improving its programs. Dolen said Rwanda’s program started specifically to stop the spread of Ebola, but it regularly seeks advice from the international community to contain the spread of all infectious diseases in order to protect its citizens.
“After observing other countries, we saw how Rwanda takes a lot of pride in how they conduct business,” said Capt. Monica Aruwah, 411th CA Functional Specialty Team (CA FXST) environmental, science and engineer officer. “Rwanda has a three-tiered approach for risk mitigation which requires everyone immigrating into the country to wash their hands, go through a body scanner and have their temperature taken.”
In addition to viewing the border crossings, the HCP team was able to witness some of the sanitation initiatives within the country. One of those tools is a brand-new incinerator, for which Aruwah said the CA FXST will create a training aid for the workers to use and learn proper maintenance. She also said that she thinks this will lead to further partnering opportunities with the nation in the future.
“The opportunities for CA to be in these different countries and pairing them with the correct functional cells bridges a gap and helps us become a better force multiplier,” said Aruwah. “Our mission now is helping us open doors for future endeavors within Rwanda.”