A rise in COVID-19 cases in India has prompted Tanzania’s Ministry of Health to renew its public health call, urging citizens to take precautions against the spread of SARS-CoV-2. About 50,000 people of Indian origin live in Tanzania and are concentrated in the major urban centres of Dar es-Salaam, Arusha, Dodoma, Morogoro, Zanzibar, Mwanza and Mbeya.
“India has regular business and travel interactions with Tanzania, just as it does with other countries. Therefore, we are obliged to strengthen our preparedness against possible cases of the disease in our country,’’ said Professor Abel Makubi, the Principal Secretary (PS) of the Ministry of Health.
India has recorded the highest daily coronavirus death toll since the pandemic began. It has become the first country to report more than 400,000 new cases in 24 hours.
No cases of COVID-19 have been officially reported in Tanzania in recent days, however, it remains to be seen if the country would ramp up testing and reporting of data such as case numbers and possible deaths—a practice that has been halted by the government since May (2020) when 509 cases and 21 deaths had been documented in WHO’s situational update.
Presently, “The government is urging the public to take all the necessary precautions” such as wearing of face masks, hand washing or sanitizing, avoiding crowds, maintaining good nutrition and engaging in regular physical exercise and use of traditional medicine, according to a statement by the Ministry’s PS, Prof Makubi.
There has been a drop in risk perception about COVID-19 in Tanzania, partly attributed to denial of the pandemic in recent months, coupled with insufficient public communication, mixed messaging and weak enforcement on prevention methods, thus few people adhere to basic health rules—even in large public gatherings.
Dr Richard Mihigo, the WHO-Africa Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme Coordinator, urged Tanzanian leaders to set an example so that the public is well guided in adhering to COVID-19 prevention methods.
“Public figures should also start wearing masks in public so that the public does not get confused on the benefits of wearing masks to prevent COVID-19 infection,” he said a fortnight ago in response to a question posed by MedicoPRESS, during a press briefing on vaccination in Africa.
Tanzania has, in recent weeks, shifted its approach on COVID-19 from the controversial stance of its late President John Magufuli.
Last month, the new president, Samia Suluhu Hassan announced she was forming a committee to research and advise her administration on the course to follow as per global health standards. However, the committee hasn’t been made public to date, eliciting reaction from critics.
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However, renewed action on COVID-19 preparedness has been reported in the country. This week, the Ministry of Health said it had installed medical oxygen production plants in seven biggest national hospitals at a cost of Sh1.4 billion, to serve patients in intensive care units, including those diagnosed with COVID-19.
Through the project, backed by the World Bank, hospitals across regions in Tanzania will be able to generate usable oxygen for their patients to fill 200 cylinders in 24 hours.
“This will reduce the cost of treating patients in need of oxygen therapy,’’ said the Minister of Health, Dr Dorothy Gwajima on March April 30, in a statement.