NAIROBI (Reuters) – The United States on Friday urged Tanzania, which is skeptical of vaccines, to review the evidence on the drugs, saying they work and are one of the tools to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
US Ambassador to Tanzania Don Wright said he was encouraged that authorities recently recognized COVID-19 as a public health priority and asked Tanzanians to take basic precautions to defend themselves from the virus.
In a statement, he urged the government to start sharing data on tests and cases “to find out if response measures are having the expected impact,” and said the government should use vaccines as a tool against coronavirus.
“There is no doubt that a mass immunization campaign will save lives,” he said. “I urge the government of Tanzania to convene its health experts and review the evidence on vaccines.”
President John Magufuli has been one of the world’s most skeptical of efforts to combat the pandemic. He has also questioned the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, saying last month that “they are not good. If they were, then the white man would have brought vaccines for HIV / AIDS.”
His government has said it has no plans to import vaccines.
Last week, the death of a high-ranking politician who tested positive for COVID-19 added to concern about a hidden epidemic that is rampant in the East African country.
On Sunday, the director of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, urged Tanzania to strengthen public health measures, prepare to distribute vaccines and begin to report coronavirus cases and share data.
The government stopped reporting coronavirus statistics last May, at a time when it had recorded 509 cases and 21 deaths.
On February 10, the US embassy said that Tanzania was experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases and that its healthcare facilities could be quickly overwhelmed.
On Wednesday, the Health Minister implored citizens to take precautions against COVID-19, including wearing face masks, avoiding unnecessary public gatherings and washing their hands.
(Nairobi newsroom report; edited by Frances Kerry)