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COVID-19: WHO puts pressure on Magufuli’s Tanzania

NO MASKS: This is when Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni visited in September. Magufuli and his team have dismissed the use of masks. PHOTOS PPU

Geneva, Switzerland | THE INDEPENDENT | World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has reached out to COVID-19 skeptic, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli, promising to support the country’s health system.

“COVID-19 is a serious disease that can cause severe illness and even death. National authorities everywhere must do all they can to protect people and save lives and WHO stands ready to support them in the response against this deadly virus,” Dr Tedros said in a statement on the situation in Tanzania.

Magufuli has ignored all Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) recommended by the WHO, including use of masks, and believes COVID-19 can be fought using natural remedies and prayers.  He at one time declared Tanzania COVID-19 free.

No masks in Tanzania

The WHO however insists that Tanzania is not telling the truth.

“A number of Tanzanians travelling to neighbouring countries and beyond have tested positive for COVID-19. This underscores the need for Tanzania to take robust action both to safeguard their own people and protect populations in these countries and beyond,” said Dr Tedros

The WHO chief added that, “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.”

Dr Tedros’ statement followed the death in the past week of Tanzania’s First Vice-President Seif Sharif Hamad, reportedly after being admitted with COVID-19.

Criticism of Tanzania’s position has risen, as over 3.8 million COVID-19 cases have been confirmed on the African continent already – with more than 3.3 million recoveries and 100,000 deaths. There are no figures from Tanzania, because they stopped sharing data on the same, last year.

Archbishop Jude-Thaddeus Ruwa’Ichi of the Catholic Church in Dar es Salaam has led the internal criticism, with several people saying Magufuli is careless only because he himself, has already been secretly vaccinated.

Magufuli’s position remains odd in East Africa, where Uganda’s President Museveni and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta have set the pace in Africa, with tough measures to control the pandemic. The two neigbouring countries have undergone months of a complete lock-down, with mask use promoted extensively by the government.

Uganda’s Museveni has twice been to Tanzania in the past six months, and on both occasions, while he wore a mask, Magufuli and his entire cabinet, were mask-less.

Will Tanzania receive WHO free vaccines?

Since most developing countries cannot compete on an open market for the COVID-19 vaccines,  World Health Organization has planned joint purchases for these nations in an initiative that also has vaccines alliance GAVI and CEPI-  Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations –  a global coalition to fight epidemics

This is supported by funds from wealthy nations in a program dubbed COVAX, one of three pillars of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator that focusses on developing a COVID-19 vaccine.

It is seen as the only global solution to the pandemic which will ensure that people in all corners of the world will get access to COVID-19 vaccines once they are available, regardless of their wealth.

A total of 156 economies representing nearly two-thirds of the world’s population have joined the COVAX Facility. This includes 64 higher-income economies, which are self-financing in procuring COVID-19 vaccines once available, and 92 low- and middle-income economies eligible for support for the procurement of vaccines through the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) coordinated by the Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a financing instrument aimed at supporting the procurement of vaccines for these countries.

Uganda to benefit from free vaccines via COVAX

Tanzania on list of 92 countries to benefit from COVAX AMC

In July the GAVI Board agreed on the 92 economies that will be supported the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC).

  • Low income: Afghanistan, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Tajikistan, Togo, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania  and Yemen.
  • Lower-middle income: Angola, Algeria, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Bolivia, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Cameroon, Comoros, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, El Salvador, Eswatini, Ghana, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Kiribati, Kyrgyztan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Mauritania, Micronesia, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, São Tomé and Principe, Senegal, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Timor-Leste, Tunisia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Vietnam, West Bank and Gaza, Zambia and Zimbabwe
  • Additional IDA eligible: Dominica, Fiji, Grenada, Guyana, Kosovo, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Samoa, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Tonga and Tuvalu.

Tanzania could miss out on a global vaccination campaign of epic proportions in history that has got the funding needed to take off end of February 2021.

US President Joe Biden on Thursday announced that the United States will provide $4 billion to the vaccine alliance Gavi and World Health Organization WHO through their COVAX Facility, to support free access to safe and effective vaccines for 92 low-and middle-income economies.

WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

COVAX is a multi-stakeholder group of organizations that is working on ramping up the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and guarantees fair and equitable access for every country in the world.

This global effort is co-led by Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Lower-income countries, will receive the initial vaccines at no cost to their governments.

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FULL STATEMENT

WHO Director-General’s statement on Tanzania and COVID-19

We extend our condolences to our Tanzanian sisters and brothers on the recent passing of a senior Tanzanian leader as well as the government’s Chief Secretary.

In late January, I joined Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Director for the African Region, in urging Tanzania to scale public health measures against COVID-19 and to prepare for vaccination. I also encouraged the sharing of data in light of reports of COVID-19 cases among travellers.

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. 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.

A number of Tanzanians travelling to neighbouring countries and beyond have tested positive for COVID-19. This underscores the need for Tanzania to take robust action both to safeguard their own people and protect populations in these countries and beyond.

COVID-19 is a serious disease that can cause severe illness and even death. National authorities everywhere must do all they can to protect people and save lives and WHO stands ready to support them in the response against this deadly virus.

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