Tanzania: What Do Jesus, Pawpaws and Goats Have to Do with Fighting COVID-19 in Tanzania?

6 May 2020

Cape Town — What have Jesus, Satan, steam, onions, artemisia plants, pawpaws, goats and sheep got to do with fighting the novel coronavirus in Tanzania?

All factor into President John Magufuli's scepticism over the spread of the virus in his country, and his refusal to impose the kind of lockdowns resorted to by some of the country's neighbours.

The latest reported number of cases in Tanzania is 480, with 16 deaths.

But while large public gatherings have been banned and educational institutions closed, Magufuli has rejected a lockdown on the grounds of protecting the economy.

Deutsche Welle reported that he encouraged worshippers to continue church and mosque services, telling a congregation in Dodoma: "You haven't seen me fearing to take communion, because corona[virus] is satanic and can't survive in Jesus' body. It will be destroyed."

Magufuli also suggested in a radio broadcast that inhaling steam would kill the virus, reports Africa Check, and recommended adding herbs and onions to the boiling water.

But scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health in the United States and the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan discounted this as a cure.

Professor Tsumoru Shintake told Africa Check that inhaling steam would inflict serious burns. Harvard's Professor Alberto Escherio addeed: "No matter how hot the steam is, it will not reach active viral particles that are replicating within cells."

The Tanzanian president is also one of a number of African leaders who has expressed interest in artemisia, a herbal drink being promoted by President Andry Rajoelina of Madagascar as a cure, despite it only undergoing clinical trials at present.

Magufuli was reported by Radio France Internationale as saying he had sent an aircraft to Madagascar to pick up supplies of artemisia.

And pawpaws, goats and sheep came into the picture when the president said he had checked up on the country's National Health Laboratory by getting security forces to acquire non-human samples - including from a pawpaw, a goat and a sheep, given them human names and ages, and submitted them to the laboratory.

The laboratory was not told of their origins and the pawpaw and goat samples tested positive for COVID-19, reports Al Jazeera.

Magufuli said laboratory workers may have lacked professionalism, but he did not believe this, according to The Citizen of Dar es Salaam. "Some workers may have been put on the payroll of imperialists," he said.

He did not dispute that the disease existed but said the situation was being exaggerated.

Reports have emerged of interest being expressed in traditional medicines in countries ranging from the Congo, Ethiopia and Guinea to Liberia and Zimbabwe. In a diplomatically-worded statement, the World Health Organization has said that it "recognizes that traditional, complementary and alternative medicine has many benefits and Africa has a long history of traditional medicine and practitioners that play an important role in providing care to populations."

But it added: "Africans deserve to use medicines tested to the same standards as people in the rest of the world. Even if therapies are derived from traditional practice and natural, establishing their efficacy and safety through rigorous clinical trials is critical."

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