According to the President of Tanzania, the country has "been freed from COVID-19 thanks to God"
God freed Tanzania from COVID-19
Unsubstantiated (insufficient data)
"Thanks to God the Coronavirus has been eliminated". These were the words of Tanzania's president, John Magufuli, in June 2020, before a congregation of believers in a church in Dodoma, the capital city. These words of the Tanzanian president, reported by the BBC, are uncorroborated. Here’s why.
No available relevant data
First of all, since April, Tanzania no longer reports COVID-19 data in the country. The authorities have expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the imported kits to test populations. The president mentioned that he had received positive results on several non-human samples, such as a goat and a papaya, provided to the only laboratory in charge of COVID-19 testing in the country. The president stated that the origin of the samples had been deliberately kept from the laboratory technicians. The head of the National Health Laboratory has been suspended. Africa CDC Director, Dr. John Nkengasong, denounced the claims of the Tanzanian president and stated that the test kits used by Tanzania and other African countries have been "validated and work very well".
Our verdict is that it is unsubstantiated that Tanzania is free from COVID-19 since no country statistics have been released about the disease.
President John Magufuli's strategy against the pandemic is threefold:
- Suppression of information
- Keeping the economy running
Religion at the heart of the fight against COVID-19
The first strategy is to promote faith. The president stated that the "Coronavirus could not survive in the body of Christ". The president also urged people to observe three days of prayer to "save" the country from the pandemic.
“My dear Tanzanian compatriots, because of the Coronavirus disease, I ask you to spend 3 days from April 17-19, 2020 (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) PRAYING Almighty God to save us from the scourge of this disease. Let us pray for each other in faith, he will hear us." John Magufuli on Twitter
Tanzania is not the only country in Africa to rely on religion to eradicate COVID-19. From the first cases, Burundi has downplayed the seriousness of the situation. In March, in a statement, the Burundian government stated that "only the grace of God has protected Burundi" from the pandemic. Moreover, in May, Burundi's Ministry of Foreign Affairs expelled WHO representatives from the country without giving exact reasons. However, with the new government, a screening campaign was put in place to improve the country's strategy in the fight against COVID-19.
When the Tanzanian government announced the closure of schools and banned gatherings, exceptions were made so that churches and mosques could remain open. This contradiction is attributable to the president's desire to insist on faith in the fight against COVID-19 and to seek "true healing". With regards to healing, Tanzania had also purchased Madagascar's Covid Organics herbal tea, which was praised by the country's authorities. This product, made from artemisia, an ingredient used in a treatment against malaria, was touted as a cure for COVID-19 but has not been proven to be effective.
Suppression of information
Almost all African countries publish daily data on the number of cases, recoveries, and deaths related to COVID-19. The Tanzanian authorities decided to follow a different path, no longer providing updated data, despite opposition demands and requests from The World Health Organization (WHO).
Along with the theories of "sabotage" of test results put forward by the president, the government has also stated that COVID-19 no longer exists in the country. Moreover, since the end of April, Tanzania has not reported any new cases. The country of 56 million people has reported 509 cases, 183 recoveries and 21 deaths out of only 3889 tests performed (as of August 25, 2020). Therefore, the Tanzanian president's claim that "thanks to God the Coronavirus has been eliminated" from the country is unsubstantiated. Since there is no longer testing in the country, it is impossible to know whether, in fact, COVID-19 no longer exists in Tanzania.
In May, the U.S. Embassy issued an alert asking U.S. citizens in Tanzania to stay home as much as possible. The Embassy said the risk of contamination of COVID-19 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's economic capital, would be "very high" and "despite the limited number of official reports, all indications are that the epidemic is growing exponentially in Dar es Salaam and other parts of Tanzania.
No slowing down of the economy
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Tanzanian government has ignored WHO warnings on recommendations for strict barrier measures to be put in place. In addition to churches and mosques, markets and the port of Dar es Salaam have remained open. The president urged workers to continue their activities, according to the directives of the health authorities.
As of May 18, the country's authorities lifted restrictions on international flights to and from Tanzania. Since tourism is one of the main sectors of the economy (17.5% of GDP), the ban on international travel and the fear of contracting the virus have impacted activities. In June, schools reopened, and sporting events resumed. Then in July, almost all restrictions due to COVID-19 were lifted.
According to a World Bank report, Tanzania's GDP growth will drop from 6.9% in 2019 (according to the government) to 2.5% in 2020. In addition, according to World Bank estimates, 500,000 Tanzanians, especially those living in urban areas and working independently and in small and medium enterprises, could fall below the poverty line. The report also indicates that with the slowdown in growth among Tanzania's major trading partners, demand and prices for agricultural and manufactured goods have declined.
Tanzania's approach to COVID-19 is a source of concern for countries in the East African sub-region. Some have strengthened measures at the borders with the country, while others have closed them.
In the absence of data, it is impossible to assert that Tanzania has been freed from COVID-19. The country's refusal to publish its data has led to distrust and concern from WHO. According to WHO Strategic Plan for COVID-19 in Africa, it is important for countries to be able to adapt their capacity to detect and track community spread. It also advises countries to assess risks and share data so that new measures can be put in place to combat COVID-19.
Photo credit: Paul Kagame | Flickr
African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation
Human Rights Watch
Twitter - John Magufuli
Twitter – Tanzanian spokesperson
Mail & Guardian – Editorial from Opposition member Zitto Kabwe
World Health Organization (WHO)
World Health organization (WHO) - Africa
US Embassy in Tanzania
International Monetary Fund (IMF)
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
House of Commons – United Kingdom
God freed Tanzania from COVID-19
August 28, 2020
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