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Tanzanian doctors pin hopes on new president for COVID turnaround

Throttled by late President John Magufuli’s coronavirus denialism, Tanzanian doctors have expressed hope the arrival of a new chief will carry optimistic change to the nation’s questionable dealing with of the pandemic.

Magufuli’s vice president and successor, Samia Suluhu Hassan, introduced on March 17 that the 61-year-old had died from a pre-existing coronary heart situation. But many suspect Magufuli, who had not been seen in public for weeks, handed away from COVID-19 issues.

In June final 12 months, Magufuli declared his nation had crushed the virus via prayer. Authorities had already stopped registering circumstances and deaths since May – on the time, Tanzania had 509 circumstances and 21 deaths – and warned of sturdy measures towards those that allegedly unfold “false information”.

Anyone who defied orders – together with doctors – could possibly be jailed below a legislation handed in 2018, which prohibits questioning the accuracy of official statistics.

Healthcare staff across the nation have discovered themselves fastidiously treading the road between adhering to authorities narrative and staying loyal to their career, in what a Tanzanian physician in Geneva referred to as “extremely difficult” circumstances.

“Since they weren’t allowed to admit the scale of the problem, many were still having to manage COVID-19 patients without actually saying it,” mentioned the physician, who labored for six years at a medical facility in Tanzania and remains to be in common contact with doctors there.

“Basically, they would put down a vague provisional diagnosis … then using guidelines from WHO (World Health Organization) and neighbouring countries, treat patients.”

‘Personality problem’

Unlike neighbouring Uganda and Kenya, which imposed strict measures to fight the unfold of the virus, in Tanzania masks and social distancing had been by no means made necessary.

Religious and political gatherings continued and companies remained open, with vacationers arriving in droves to Zanzibar – the semi-autonomous island off the coast.

Now, in what could possibly be thought-about the primary signal of transformation, the Ministry of Health final week quietly launched on its website science-based coronavirus pointers, together with private protecting gear (PPE) for healthcare staff and masks for sufferers.

According to Aikande Kwayu, an impartial Tanzanian researcher and honorary fellow on the University of Wisconsin-Madison within the United States, reforms will take time, as any drastic change after all could be seen as disrespecting the previous chief.

“It’s a bit early to say what direction president Suluhu Hassan will take, but the guidelines, which were released very discreetly, are a step in the right direction,” Kwayu mentioned.

“The denial of COVID-19 in Tanzania was more of a personality problem of the late president Magufuli.”

In Kwayu’s opinion, the largest signal of a new tack could be if Hassan changed Minister of Health Dorothy Gwajima, a Magufuli loyalist who promoted steam inhalation and smoothies of ginger, garlic and lemon to keep at bay diseases, whereas dismissing any probability the nation would procure vaccines.

It isn’t but clear whether or not the new president, who’s the nation’s first feminine chief and identified for her tactile management type, will start sharing case knowledge and procure vaccines for Tanzania’s 58 million folks via the COVAX initiative, a WHO-backed scheme designed to spice up the distribution of vaccines to low- and lower-middle-income nations.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had beforehand referred to as Tanzania’s state of affairs “very concerning,” however has not too long ago mentioned he was able to work with Hassan.

Hoping for extra PPE

Kwayu mentioned it was unclear whether or not the new president would mandate facial coverings, given she was seen with out one at Magufuli’s state funeral final week.

However, Kwayu added she anticipated that public denialism of the illness would finish and that testing is perhaps decentralised, in order that not solely the nationwide laboratory in Dar-es-Salaam might problem COVID-19 outcomes.

Privately, doctors are additionally hoping for improved entry to PPE. Healthcare staff had been already in need of the gear earlier than the pandemic and issues solely acquired worse since final 12 months. The Medical Association of Tanzania has beforehand referred to as on the federal government and public for PPE donations.

According to the Geneva-based physician, healthcare practitioners have had to make use of the few masks and gloves they’d for for much longer than advisable, typically contracting the virus on the job and transmitting it to these they had been treating.

In one occasion, somebody working in a most cancers ward instructed the physician that colleagues excused themselves from obligation after they fell ailing from what they suspected to be coronavirus solely to report again days later for worry of reprisals.

“They reported back to work while still weak and probably contagious,” the Geneva-based physician mentioned.

“Nobody really felt safe to openly challenge the status quo for fear of losing their jobs, so the ethical dilemma faced was daunting and frustrating for many.”

Even with the current discovery of essentially the most mutated variant of the coronavirus (a pressure that has 10 extra mutations than some other) in Tanzanian travellers arriving in Angola, a Tanzania-based physician, who requested to stay nameless over job-safety considerations, mentioned the nation is unlikely to see any drastic measures equivalent to a nationwide lockdown given the financial realities.

“Africa has a major issue with poverty, of which lockdown creates far more dangerous effects,” mentioned the physician.

“African governments can not feed their people and many of us live on daily earnings … so [it] needs [its] own solution on how to deal with the pandemic.”

Although some feared it could be too late for authorities to restore the harm achieved to Tanzanians’ notion of the virus and the vaccines, Tundu Lissu, a number one opposition determine and Magufuli’s predominant opponent in final 12 months’s presidential elections, mentioned he believed all the things rested on what the new president did

“If she changes course decisively on COVID-19, the rest of the country will follow suit,” he mentioned.

“The denialism that defined Magufuli was becoming increasingly untenable even before his death. I think a change of course here would be very much welcome.”

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