Tanzanians Cautioned On Infectious Illness Like Covid

The government of Tanzania has recently issued statements warning the public to take precautions against all infectious diseases, and wash hands and wear masks when necessary.

And as the world scrambles to get vaccines against Covid-19, Tanzania's deputy Health Minister Dr Godwin Mollel last week said they are not against Covid-19 vaccines per se, but wary of their long-term effects.

Most of the Covid-19 vaccines currently available have been developed using mRNA technology that international health experts say have a 95 percent efficacy rate in preventing severe Covid-19 infection and mortality.

These include those produced by the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca in collaboration with England's Oxford University and the US-based Pfizer Inc. in conjunction with Germany's BioNtech. All these are now at various stages of supply to African countries under the subsidised Covax facility.

Although Tanzania was initially among 92 low- and middle-income countries that were to benefit from the Covax scheme, President John Magufuli recently urged Tanzanians to instead rely on local herbal remedies like steam inhalation to boost immunity against the virus.

Although President Magufuli had declared Tanzania Covid-19 free last June, a recent spate of deaths from "respiratory blockage" in the populace, including top political and government officials -- vice-president of the semi-autonomous Zanzibar Seif Shariff Hamad and the president's chief secretary John Kijazi -- has prompted authorities to concede the existence of Covid-19.

However, on February 20, WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus described the situation in Tanzania as "very concerning."

Tanzania has not acted on any the recommendations but Dr Mollel said the government's intention is not to go against the WHO or other international bodies but was only using "common sense."

Vaccine registration

He dismissed the idea of resuming the sharing of Covid-19 data, asserting that data on "respiratory diseases like Covid-19" was primarily for use by medical personnel to monitor trends and thrash out solutions and not necessarily for public consumption as this could "increase stress and panic levels among the population, thereby only exacerbating the problem."

Tanzania last issued Covid-19 statistics in April 2020 showing 509 positive cases and 21 deaths.

Efforts by The EastAfrican to contact the deputy minister for comment proved futile.

Questions to the WHO on how it is working with views like those held by Tanzania also went unanswered.

Catherine Kyobutungi, executive director of African Population and Health Research Centre, says vaccines cannot be used in countries where they haven't been registered and licensed for use.

"The normal process is that experts in the country, together with regulatory bodies, review the data about the vaccine and approve its use if they are satisfied about its efficacy and safety. For the Covid-19, this is being done through the WHO Emergency Use Listing procedure.

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