WHO warns Tanzania against Covid-19 inaction

Tanzania Covid-19

A man on May 22, 2020 leaves a steam inhalation booth installed by Tanzanian herbalist Msafiri Mjema in Dar es Salaam, which is touted to prevent Covid-19 infection. WHO has appealed to Tanzania to take "robust action" against Covid-19 in the country.

Photo credit: Ericky Boniphace | AFP

Dar es Salaam,

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on Tanzania to take "robust action" to combat Covid-19 in the country.

Directo-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a statement on Sunday, said a number of Tanzanians travelling to neighbouring countries and beyond have tested positive for the coronavirus.

"This underscores the need for Tanzania to take robust action, both to safeguard their own people and protect the population beyond," said Tedros.

The WHO boss noted that late in January, he urged Tanzania to take measures against the pandemic.

"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,” he said.

"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."

New measures

Tanzania last reported Covid-19 case figures in April 2020, when it announced 509 infections.

The government last week announced a new set of measures to contain a further spread of the deadly virus amid claims of a worrying rise in deaths attributable to the pandemic.

Contrary to a widely held government position that there is no Covid-19 in Tanzania, the government announced eight specific measures to stop its spread.

The Health ministry asked Tanzanians to observe hygiene measures as advised by health experts.

These include frequent handwashing with soap and running water, using sanitisers in the absence of clean water and soap, engaging in physical exercises, and protecting the elderly, overweight people and those with chronic diseases.

Others include observing balanced diets including vegetables and fruits, using traditional remedies registered by the Traditional and Alternative Health Practice Council and following instructions by experts, putting on face masks and reporting to health centres after developing disease symptoms.

“We must continue taking precautions by abiding by healthy living requirements so as to prevent hazards that may weaken our bodies’ immune systems….,” reads the Health ministry’s statement as signed by the head of government communications unit.

Magufuli’s advise

President John Magufuli also told worshipers at the Roman Catholics’ Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Dar es Salaam that Tanzanians should continue taking precautions against the virus as instructed by health experts.

The head of State said the government hasn’t prohibited the use of face masks but advised the use of those locally made, including those from the Medical Store Department (MSD).

The statement signed by presidential communications director Gerson Msigwa says citizens can make their own masks and terms imported masks as unsafe.

“President Magufuli has insisted on the use of traditional methods in containing respiratory diseases, including applying steam therapy and avoiding fear which has more impacts,” reads part of the statement.

“Tanzanians should put God first because prevention measures such as putting on masks, observing social distancing and the lockdown haven’t resolved the problem in the countries they have been applied. Rather, thousands of people have died.”

On January 26, the Tanzania Episcopal Conference (TEC) issued a statement reminding the Roman Catholic faithful to take precautionary measures against a possible new wave of coronavirus infections.

TEC President Bishop Gervas John Nyaisonga in a statement said that religious leaders should remind worshippers to step up protection measures, warning of a new wave of the disease.

He said many countries have witnessed the deaths of thousands of people due to the pandemic, adding Tanzania is "not an Island".

“We have all reasons to take precaution and pray to God that the pandemic does not overwhelm our country,” he said in a letter that added weight to earlier warnings by other Tanzanian Catholic clerics.

Doctors at risk

Last week, the Tanzania Medical Association (MAT) President, Dr Shadrack Mwaibambe ,said challenges in the health sector put the health of doctors at risk and must be addressed by responsible authorities.

"In preventing outbreaks, especially new epidemics, no country is 100 percent sure of its approach.  Every country is trying its best level to find a way to understand the disease in consideration of the way of life of its people," he said.

He urged the doctors to use their modern Medicine skills and educate Tanzanians on the need to visit healthcare centres as soon as they develop symptoms, and abstain from unnecessary gatherings.

“They should wash their hands, wear masks, have small numbers at funerals and adhere to all other directives issued by the ministry and other health stakeholders," he said.

The Tanganyika Law Society (TLS) President, Rugemeleza Nshala, called on the government to declare the presence of Covid-19 in the country and impose mandatory preventive measures, saying 25 lawyers had succumbed to the virus by Friday.

He said that according to Section 4 of the TLS Act, the bar association is obliged to provide legal advice to the Executive, Parliament, the Judiciary and the public and that denying the presence of Covid-19 in the country contravenes Article 18 (d) of the Union Constitution.

“Denying presence of disease will not permanently address the challenge, rather expertise is required to establish the cause of the problem, the magnitude, effects and mitigation measures,” he said.