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Africa CDC says Tanzania virus tests ‘very reliable’

Nairobi, Kenya | AFP | The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday sought to ease concerns by Tanzania that the country’s coronavirus test kits were faulty.

President John Magufuli on Monday suspended top officials at the country’s national laboratory, after saying he had secretly had animals and fruits tested — and a goat, a quail and pawpaw were found positive with the virus.

He cast doubt on the credibility of laboratory equipment and technicians and questioned official data on the epidemic.

“The tests that Tanzania and all African countries are using are tests that we have validated and we know that they are performing very well,” said John Nkengasong, director of the Africa CDC.

“We are very instrumental in training, providing training to nearly all countries and providing them with test kits. We’ve also in the last couple of weeks and months distributed tests from the Jack Ma Foundation that have been validated and proven to be very, very reliable.”

Magufuli has come under fire for repeatedly playing down the gravity of the virus, and his country is one of few in Africa that have not taken extensive measures to curb the spread.

After Magufuli on April 22 accused the health ministry of stoking panic by releasing new figures, the country has only updated its numbers once, on April 29, at which date it had recorded 480 cases.

He has urged citizens to keep attending church and the mosque, and his officials have suggested inhaling steam to fight the virus. Magufuli has also said he is in talks with Madagascar for a herbal tea the island nation claims cures the disease.

Baptised Covid-Organics, the drink is derived from artemisia — a plant with proven efficacy in malaria treatment — and other indigenous herbs.

Several African nations have expressed an interest in the purported remedy and the African Union has sought technical data from Madagascar.

“We should not discount anything at this point, we should know that the solutions may come completely from unexpected quarters,” said Nkengasong.

But he reiterated the scientific position that any claimed cure should be submitted to meticulous testing to see whether it is safe and effective.

“All we ask is that there should be a standard way of doing things that follow a standard protocol that is known in the scientific community,” he said.

“Scientists and public health experts should be leading these efforts in the country and… no-one should be in the haste to declare and make any announcement on any remedy or herbal product that has not been tested rigorously.”

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