Tanzania’s health ministry says it has no plans in place for COVID-19 vaccination in a country of 60 million people.
Health Minister Dorothy Gwajima told a press conference in the capital, Dodoma that “the ministry has no plans to receive vaccines for COVID-19.” Any vaccines must receive ministry approval. It is not clear when any vaccines might arrive, though Tanzania is eligible for the COVAX global effort aimed at delivering doses to low- and middle-income countries.
The health minister insisted Tanzania is safe days after the president expressed doubt about the vaccines without offering evidence.
During a press conference in which she and others present didn’t wear face masks, she however encouraged the public to improve hygiene practices including the use of sanitizers and steam inhalation — which has been dismissed by health experts elsewhere as a way to kill the coronavirus.
Chief government chemist Fidelice Mafumiko also suggested the use of herbal medicine to cure COVID-19, without offering evidence.
Tanzania’s government has been widely criticized for its approach to the pandemic. It has not updated its number of coronavirus infections – 509 since May with 20 deaths.
The World Health Organization’s Africa chief last week urged Tanzania to share its data on infections, while the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director said that “if we do not fight this as a collective on the continent, we will be doomed. “
President John Magufuli, who has long asserted that God has eliminated COVID-19 in Tanzania, last week asserted that vaccines for it are “inappropriate” even as he admit some Tanzanians had travelled abroad to take the vaccine but “ended up bringing us a strange coronavirus” – an admission that the virus may be circulating in the country.
Dr Gwajima also warned media outlets not to report unofficial information on coronavirus or any disease. The warning comes after the Catholic Church said it had observed an increase in requiem masses, blaming funerals on a spike in coronavirus infections.
While it’s difficult to gauge the level of virus infections in Tanzania, this week leading opposition party ACT Wazalendo announced that party leader Seif Sharif Hamad, vice president of the semi-autonomous island region of Zanzibar, was being treated for COVID-19.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its latest travel warning on Tanzania says the country’s level of COVID-19 is “very high.” It gave no details but urged against all travel to the East African nation.