In Brief: WHO calls out Tanzania for its lack of COVID-19 response

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Workers prepare face shields from recycled plastics in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Photo by: Stringer / Reuters

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus issued a statement on Saturday calling the lack of COVID-19 response in Tanzania “very concerning.”

This follows 10 months of COVID-19 denialism, misinformation, and lack of transparency from the country’s government.

"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," he wrote.

Why it matters: WHO statements targeting specific countries are rare.

The Tanzanian government stopped reporting cases of COVID-19 to WHO in May 2020 and  President John Magufuli has denied the presence of the virus in the country and warned against the use of vaccines, suggesting Tanzanians would be used as guinea pigs. While the country is eligible to receive donated vaccines from the COVAX Facility, it has not taken steps to receive doses.

This lack of control of the pandemic is spilling over. Tanzanian travelers to neighboring countries and elsewhere are testing positive for COVID-19, according to the statement.

Last week, Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad, vice-president of Tanzania's semi-autonomous islands of Zanzibar, died from COVID-19. The head of the civil service, John Kijazi, died the same day, but the cause of death was not made public.

On Feb. 10, the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania warned of a “significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases” in the country.

What’s next: Following WHO’s statement, Magufuli encouraged people to wear masks on Sunday, despite previous statements discouraging their use. While he previously declared Tanzania COVID-19 free, on Friday Magafuli suggested the virus was circulating in the country but called for prayer rather than lockdowns as the solution.

WHO said it “stands ready” to support the country in its pandemic response.

About the author

  • Sara Jerving

    Sara Jerving is a global health reporter based in Nairobi. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, and Bloomberg News, among others. Sara holds a master's degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was a Lorana Sullivan fellow. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists in 2018, part of a Vice News Tonight on HBO team that received an Emmy nomination in 2018 and received the Philip Greer Memorial Award from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2014. She has reported from over a dozen countries.