Tanzania continues to dodge WHO recommendations on Ebola

Dr. Michel Yao, incident manager for WHO in DRC. Photo by: WHO

NAIROBI — The Tanzanian government has yet to conduct a second test of its suspected Ebola cases, as recommended by the World Health Organization, Dr. Michel Yao, incident manager for WHO in DRC, confirmed during a press conference in Nairobi on Friday.

“Our advice is to double-check in a second laboratory, so it’s unfortunate that this could not happen.”

— Dr. Michel Yao, incident manager DRC, WHO

On Sept. 21, WHO issued a statement accusing the Tanzanian government of withholding clinical information on suspected Ebola cases — an unusual move for WHO, according to health experts. The statement outlined unofficial reports of suspected Ebola cases in the country and the government’s repeated refusal to provide information that WHO requested.  

The government told WHO that all of the tests of suspected Ebola cases it conducted were negative, but failed to provide WHO with detailed information from these negative test results, despite several requests. WHO recommends that even if a country conducts its own tests, and the test results are negative, if a country has never had a case of Ebola it should cross-test these suspected cases by a “reference” laboratory. WHO recommends this for the first 50 suspected negative samples of Ebola.

But to date, Tanzania has refused to confirm these suspected Ebola cases are negative in a second laboratory, Yao said.

“Our advice is to double-check in a second laboratory, so it’s unfortunate that this could not happen,” Yao said, helping to “close the debate.”

Following the reports of suspected Ebola cases in the country, WHO deployed a team in Tanzania that provided training in areas such as case management and community based- surveillance, he said. The U.S. government also updated it’s travel advisory to include “probable” cases of Ebola.

Despite the Tanzanian government declining to confirm the tests, it has taken other steps in efforts to prepare for Ebola cases in the country, he said. For example, it has moved forward in terms of filing paperwork that would allow the experimental Ebola vaccine and therapeutics to be imported.

“I would say that most of the preparedness activities that we are doing are now done jointly with the [government], with a clear buy-in, and even partners are mobilizing in the country to provide further support,” he said.

There have also not been any further suspected cases of Ebola reported in the country, he said.

“It’s difficult to hide Ebola cases,” he said.

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    Sara Jerving

    Sara Jerving is Devex's East Africa Correspondent based in Nairobi. She is a reporter and producer, whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Nation magazine, among others. Sara holds a master's degree in business and economic reporting from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was a Lorana Sullivan fellow.