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Tanzania experts suggest overhaul of COVID-19 denial policy

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A special committee of health experts formed by Tanzania’s new president on Monday recommended an overhaul of the country’s approach to COVID-19, which until lately was to deny its existence.

Soon after being sworn into office in March, President Samia Suluhu Hassan said Tanzania is not an island and is open to implementing globally accepted coronavirus containment measures if recommended by the country’s experts. She formed a committee to advise her.

Led by Said Aboud from Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, the committee recommended that the government should provide information on COVID-19 and take concrete steps to strengthen interventions at all levels to prevent a third wave of the disease that can be caused by the coronavirus.

Other recommendations include that Tanzania participate effectively in decision-making and implement regional and international resolutions on the pandemic adopted in regional blocs and World Health Organization.

The committee also recommends that health professionals fulfill their professional responsibilities ​​in educating, preventing and treating COVID-19 in the country,

It urged the government to allow use of coronavirus vaccines listed by the WHO to provide opportunities for protection for its citizens after locally testing such vaccines are effective .

The government also should join the global COVAX initiative that was created to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have fair access to vaccines, the panel said.

Tanzania did not apply for vaccines through COVAX and the WHO says it is among nearly a dozen countries, many of them in Africa, that are still yet to get vaccines. Those last in line on the continent to receive vaccine along with Tanzania are Burkina Faso, Burundi and Eritrea

If implemented, the committee’s recommendations would be a big step from Tanzania’s COVID-19 policy under Hassan’s predecessor, John Magufuli, who died in March.

Magufuli was among the world’s most prominent coronavirus skeptics, dismissing scientific approaches to prevent and treat the disease. He discouraged the use of face masks and instead promoted prayer, physical fitness and herbal remedies.

Magufuli’s government fired officials who gave other opinions and some people were arrested. Last year he suspended the head of its national health laboratory in charge of testing for the coronavirus. The firing came a day after Magufuli argued imported test kits were faulty after he secretly organized samples from a goat, pawpaw and other non-human things to be tested and they returned a positive test.

Hassan was Tanzania’s vice president and became the country’s first woman president following Magufuli’s death. She announced the cause of death as heart failure, but critics of Magufuli speculated he died of COVID-19 after weeks of being out of public view while government officials claimed he was in good health.

Tom Odula, The Associated Press