The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging officials in Tanzania to follow science in the fight against the coronavirus, after the country’s president said the approved vaccines are “dangerous” and that “not all vaccines are of good intentions to our nation.”
“Urging #Tanzania to ramp up public health measures such as wearing masks to fight #COVID19. Science shows that #VaccinesWork and I encourage the government to prepare for a COVID vaccination campaign,” WHO’s Regional Africa Director Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said on January 28, following President John Magufuli’s comments from the previous day. “WHO is here to support the government and people of Tanzania,” Moeti added.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus echoed Moeti’s comments, saying “I join @MoetiTshidi’s call for strong health measures and #COVID19 vaccine preparedness. Data-sharing by #Tanzania is also key, with cases surfacing among travelers and visitors over the months.”
President Magufuli, who was reelected in a disputed October 2020 election, has been downplaying the virus and has told the health ministry not to rush to purchase vaccines.
“There are some of our fellow Tanzanians who recently did travel abroad in search of corona vaccines, they are the ones who brought back corona in our country after returning,” Magufuli said at an event on January 27. “My fellow Tanzanians, let us stand firm, some of these vaccines are not good for us.”
“I really urged the ministry of health to be very, very careful with all the vaccines which are imported into our country, not all vaccines are of good intentions to our nation, it is important that we Tanzanians be very careful with some of these vaccines imported to our country,” he said.
“We need to put our God first but at the same time we take all the necessary measures, health precaution measures to protect ourselves against this disease, as advised by our country’s health experts,” Magufuli said. “We (Tanzanians) have lived for almost one year without the virus, and a good evidence is, most of us here we don’t mask,” he added.
During a news conference on Monday (February 1), Tanzania’s Health Minister Dorothy Gwajima didn’t say when the country will start receiving vaccines but instead reiterated the government’s suggested hygiene practices, which include drinking plenty of water and taking local herbs, which the government claims, without evidence, can combat the virus.
Tanzania has not updated its Covid-19 data since late April, leaving the last number of reported confirmed cases at 509 and the death toll at 21. Those are also the latest numbers that Johns Hopkins University has published on its website.
Responding to a question about Tanzania’s approach to handling the pandemic, Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said the continent must be united in its response to the virus in order to succeed.
“Africa operates with a strong coordination of the African Union (AU). Our position is clear, that we have to express unity of purpose to succeed as a continent,” Nkengasong said.
“Tanzania is a great country, has been a great country in Africa preaching and promoting the values of unity on the continent,” he said. “So great cooperation and great solidarity and great sense of unity of purpose from Tanzania is highly valued in this critical moment in our history.”
CNN’s Brent Swails and a CNN source in Tanzania contributed to this report.