WHO frets over TZ corona stance
Thabiso Scotch Mufambi
Harare – While most African countries are rolling-out – or at the very least have plans in place for – COVID-19 vaccination programmes, Tanzania is conspicuously silent.
The SADC member state stopped publishing COVID-19 statistics in April 2020 after President John Magufuli declared victory over the pandemic.
“I want to thank Tanzanians of all faiths. We have been praying and fasting for God to save us from the pandemic that has afflicted our country and the world. But God has answered us. I believe, and I am certain that many Tanzanians believe, that the corona disease has been eliminated by God,” President Magufuli said then.
On April 29, 2020, the last day official data was released, there were 509 cases and 21 deaths in Tanzania. The stats counter has remained static there since.
The deaths of high profile figures, such as First Vice-President of the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar, Seif Sharif Hamad, to COVID-19 last week has not moved the government to approach the pandemic any differently.
Prsident Magufuli’s Chief Secretary, John Kijazi, also died last week after being hospitalised for an unspecified illness, widely reported to be COVID-19.
Now the World Health Organisation has directly approached the Tanzanian government to appeal for a change of attitude.
In his condolence message to the Tanzanian government following the deaths of Hamad and Kijazi, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said, “In late January, I joined Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Director for African Region, in urging Tanzania to scale public health measures against COVID-19 and to prepare for vaccination. I also encouraged the sharing of data in light of reports of COVID-19 among travellers.
“Since then I have spoken with several authorities in Tanzania, but WHO is yet to receive any information regarding what measures Tanzania is taking to respond to the pandemic. This situation remains very concerning. I renew my call for Tanzania to start reporting COVID-19 cases and share data; I also call on Tanzania to implement the public health measures that we know work in breaking the chains of transmission and to prepare for vaccination.”
Dr Ghebreyesus said every country had an obligation to protect its citizens and those of other countries from COVID-19.
“A number of Tanzanians travelling to neighbouring countries and beyond have tested positive for COVID-19. This underscores the need for Tanzania to take robust action both to safeguard their own people and protect populations in these countries and beyond,” he said.
“COVID-19 is a serious disease that can cause severe illness and even death. National authorities everywhere must do all they can to protect people and save lives and WHO stands ready to support them in the response against this deadly virus.”
WHO Africa chief Dr Moeti concurred.
“I join Dr Tedros in sending condolences to Tanzania for their loss of a senior leader from COVID-19 and urge the government to share data on the disease and join vaccination efforts to keep all people safe from a disease that has killed more than 100 000 Africans,” she tweeted.
Early this week, President Magufuli urged the nation to participate in three days of prayer for an unspecified “respiratory” illness.
President Magufuli also urged citizens to take precautions, including wearing face masks – but only locally made ones.