Under pressure from the WHO, Human Rights Watch and calls for Tanzania's expulsion from the Commonwealth, President John Magufuli's government may be budging from its COVID-19 denialist position, reports MedicalBrief.
At the weekend, at a church service, Magufuli urged Tanzanians to take preventive measures against the coronavirus after downplaying the disease for months and claiming it had been defeated by prayers. Shortly afterwards, the Tanzania Health Ministry issued a statement also calling on people to wear face masks and wash their hands to prevent COVID-19 infections.
World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has expressed concern over Tanzania’s failure to introduce sufficient measures to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. President John Magufuli has ignored all Standard Operating Procedures recommended by the WHO, including the use of masks. The Independent (Kampala) reports that he believes the disease can be fought with natural remedies and prayers and recently declared that Tanzania is COVID-19 free.
Ghebreyesus disputed this, saying a number of Tanzanians travelling to neighbouring countries and beyond have tested positive. “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.
“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.”
Ghebreyesus' statement follows last week’s death of Zanzibar Vice-President Seif Sharif Hamad from COVID-19. Magufuli's position remains odd in East Africa, where Uganda's President Museveni and Kenya's Uhuru Kenyatta have tough measures to control the pandemic. The two neighbouring countries have undergone months of a complete lock-down, and mask use promoted extensively by the government.
As local and international concern grows over the Tanzanian government’s handling of COVID-19, a major international law firm has written to the Commonwealth Secretariat, suggesting that the time had come to consider expelling Tanzania from the Commonwealth.
International human rights specialist firm Amsterdam & Partners said this was because, due to the policies of its president, Tanzania was not living up to its undertakings as a member of the Commonwealth. It had committed to fight against communicable disease but was instead endangering the lives of people in Tanzania and other Commonwealth countries.
As Carmel Rickard explains in her A Matter of Justice column on the Legalbrief site, these concerns are shared by others as well and this weekend alone, both Human Rights Watch and the WHO also raised alarm about the effect of government policies on the health of Tanzanians.
Meanwhile, coming a day after the WHO chief’s comments, the president of Tanzania has urged its citizens to take preventive measures against the coronavirus after downplaying the disease for months and claiming it had been defeated by prayers. Polity reports that speaking during a Sunday church mass in the capital Dodoma, Magufuli urged citizens of the East African country to take precautions and wear face masks – but only locally made ones.
A few hours later, the Tanzania Health Ministry issued a statement also calling on people to wear face masks and wash their hands to prevent COVID-19 infections, according to local media.
Polity reports that the WHO’s call for action came after a number of Tanzanians travelling to neighbouring countries and beyond tested positive for the coronavirus. Others recently expressing concern include the US and the local Catholic church.
The report says the country of 60m people recently mourned the death of one of its highest-profile politicians, the vice president of the semi-autonomous island region of Zanzibar, whose infection with COVID had been announced by his political party. Magufuli’s chief secretary also died in recent days, though the cause was not revealed.
Magufuli, speaking at the chief secretary’s funeral, had urged the nation to participate in three days of prayer for unspecified “respiratory” illnesses that had become a challenge to the country.
Polity reports that Tanzania has not updated its number of coronavirus infections since April as the president has insisted COVID-19 had been defeated. Tanzania’s official number of coronavirus infections remains at just 509, but residents report many people have become ill with breathing difficulties and hospitals have seen a rise in patients diagnosed with “pneumonia”.
Full report in The Independent (Kampala) (Open access)
Full letter to the Commonwealth Secretary
Human rights submission
Statement by WHO director-general
Full Polity report (Open access)
See also MedicalBrief archives:Tanzanian president: COVID vaccines ‘a plot to steal Africa’s wealth’
Prayer has rid the country of COVID-19 says Tanzania’s president
Tanzania accused by opposition of hiding true COVID-19 stats
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