Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has issued a statement pleading with Tanzania to start reporting COVID-19 cases and share its data about the pandemic.
“This situation is very concerning. I renew my call for Tanzania to start reporting COVID-19 cases and share data,” he said, in the statement released on Saturday. “I also call for Tanzania to implement the public health measures that we know work in breaking the chain of transmission, and to prepare for vaccination.”
Tanzania has been drawing concern internationally about how its leaders are tackling the spread of COVID-19. After declaring the country COVID-free a few months into the pandemic last year, the country’s president, John Magufuli, has since refused to impose lockdowns, has stopped testing, and has stopped public communication campaigns about the virus.
Meanwhile, the country’s health minister said early in February that the country has no plans to procure COVID-19 vaccines to rollout to citizens.
Dr. Tedros’ call for data is important because without data it is difficult to determine how widespread the virus is in Tanzania. Dr. Tedros has confirmed, however, that citizens travelling outside the country have tested positive — indicating that it is circulating in the country.
"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.
The last time Tanzania issued COVID-19 statistics was in May 2020 — at the time 509 cases and 21 deaths were recorded in the country. Following that, President John Magufuli has been down-playing the seriousness of the virus, claiming that the country will get through the virus with prayer.
Doctors in the country have been urging the government to take COVID-19 seriously, as more people are dying after presenting with symptoms of the virus, including difficulty breathing, with numbers of people being diagnosed with pneumonia.
On Feb, 1, Tanzania’s minister of health Dorothy Gwajima said in a conference that the ministry has no plans to rollout a vaccine for COVID-19. During that conference the health minister was not wearing a mask, but continued to insist that the people should continue taking precautionary measures and that Tanzania is safe.
The president did appear to signal a potential change in attitude to the pandemic the day after Dr. Tedros’ statement, with some tentative support on Sunday from both the president and from the health ministry for Tanzanians to be wearing face masks and follow hand-washing guidance.
President Magufuli said on Sunday, during a service at a church in Dar-es-Salaam: “The government has not banned use of masks, but some of these are not safe at all… let’s be careful. Let us all depend on God as we also take other preventative measures. I put God first and that is why I do not wear a mask.”
The health ministry added in a statement on Sunday that citizens should “continue to believe in God” while also respecting health protocols, including wearing a mask.