I lost my father, 82 three days before his birthday. Since January of this year, we have lost three family members and their deaths have been attributed to pneumonia. I watched helplessly on FaceTime as my father struggled to gulp air, his oxygen levels were between 76-80 and upon admission he was unable to have Oxygen due to the high volume of patients requiring oxygen. The physician who treated my father was afraid to mention the disease for the fear of government reprisals. She tried everything, from giving my dad steam therapy, antibiotics and steroids’ to trying Vitamin D supplements. Nothing worked. I recognise, my fathers age puts him at a high risk however a small part of me wonders, had the physician been able to test for COVID he would have had a very different treatment plan. Our pain might have eased a little knowing he was receiving the treatment he needed.
Ask any Tanzanian they’ll say, it is COVID and people are dying.
Whilst in the west we are fed up of lockdowns and have a glimmer of hope with the vaccination programme, people in Tanzania have been told by the president to pray. President Magufuli has continued to play down the seriousness of the disease even as neighboring countries such as Kenya and Uganda closed borders. The government last released numbers on COVID-19 in April, 2020, there had been 509 positive cases, 21 deaths and 183 recoveries – a figure unchanged to date.
I recently mentioned the plight of Tanzanians to friends and colleagues, there is little awareness of the situation. Following the death of Seif Sharif Hamad, Vice President of the semi-autonomous Zanzibar Island the World health organisation issued a statement urging President Magufuli to cooperate. In response, the President announced three days of prayer. Whilst there is a time and a place for prayer and I do not question the comfort it offers, Tanzanians needs science and leadership to tackle COVID. What will it take for something to change?