Coronavirus (603) Policymakers and health misinformation (20) Tanzania: "If there was free information flow, the people would make informed choices"

15 May, 2020

Extracts below. Full text here: https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news/2020/05/14/Tanzania-government-h...

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Tanzanian doctors sound alarm over hidden coronavirus cases

‘Corona is considered a security issue, not a public health issue.’

Saskia Houttuin

The Tanzanian government’s tepid response to COVID-19 and seeming lack of transparency over coronavirus cases is fuelling concern that it is covering up the true extent of the pandemic, according to doctors and health experts in the East African country.

The New Humanitarian spoke to five Tanzania-based doctors and medical specialists about the response, either by telephone or email. All only agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, such was their fear of reprisals from a government whose human rights record has worsened in recent years.

“There is no information,” said one specialist, a health adviser to the government in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. “This leads to a tremendous amount of rumours and fears among the population ­– it’s disastrous for this epidemic.”...

“The risk of contracting COVID-19 in Dar es Salaam is extremely high,” the US embassy statement said. “Despite limited official reports, all evidence points to exponential growth of the epidemic in Dar and other locations in Tanzania.”...

In March, the president urged the public to continue attending religious gatherings. “That’s where there is true healing,” he said. “Corona is the devil, and it cannot survive in the body of Jesus.”.../

“If there was free information flow, the people would make informed choices, but, as it is now, people are groping in darkness,” said the doctor at the private hospital in Dar es Salaam. “It’s like walking in a swampy forest at night without a flashlight.”

Another doctor, working in the north of the country, said one of her main concerns was that Tanzanians aren’t going to hospital even when they’re in need of urgent care. “If people avoid healthcare, there’s a risk of secondary damage,” she said. “This could lead to consequences that are worse than the virus itself.”...

The unusual COVID-19 response, which makes Tanzania something of a regional outlier, has led to much speculation, even the idea that the government could be attempting a herd immunity strategy. “But if [Magufuli] is thinking of that, I think many people will die – if they haven’t already,” said the adviser.

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Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG neil@hifa.org