Tanzania rejecting COVID-19 vaccine

For months Tanzania’s government has insisted the country was free from Covid-19 – so there are no plans for vaccination.

The BBC’s Dickens Olewe has spoken to one family mourning the death of a husband and father suspected of having had the disease.

The fear is that amid the denial, there are many more unacknowledged victims of this highly contagious virus.

A week after Peter – not his real name – arrived home from work with a dry cough and loss of taste, he was taken to hospital, where he died within hours. He had not been tested for Covid. But then, according to Tanzania’s government, which has not published data on the coronavirus (COVID-19) for months, the country is “Covid-19-free”.

There is little testing and no plans for a vaccination programme in the East African country.

It is nearly impossible to gauge the true extent of the virus and only a small number of people are officially allowed to talk about the issue.

Recent public statements have hinted at a different reality at a time when some citizens, like Peter’s wife, are quietly mourning the deaths of family members suspected to have had the virus.

Several Tanzanian families have had similar experiences but have chosen not to speak out, fearing retribution from the government.

The British government has banned all travellers arriving from Tanzania, while the US has warned against going to the country because of coronavirus.

Since June last year, when President John Magufuli declared the country “COVID-19 free”, he, along with other top government officials, have mocked the efficacy of masks, doubted if testing works, and teased neighbouring countries which have imposed health measures to curb the virus.

Mr Magufuli has also warned – without providing any evidence – that COVID-19 vaccines could be harmful and has instead been urging Tanzanians to use steam inhalation and herbal medicines, neither of which have been approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as treatments.

It is unclear why the president has expressed such skepticism about the vaccines but he recently said that Tanzanians should not be used as “guinea pigs”.

“If the white man was able to come up with vaccinations, he should have found a vaccination for Aids, cancer and TB by now,” said Mr Magufuli, who has often cast himself as standing up to Western imperialism.

The WHO disagrees. -BBC

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