I am really grateful to Jason Burke for writing about the situation in Tanzania and for giving me the opportunity to share my story and to raise much needed awareness. I feel like I am living in a parallel universe, the messages on my WhatsApp are bleak with daily news of someone we know taken into hospital with so called “pneumonia” (the code word for COVID in Tanzania). Meanwhile in the UK COVID sceptics think the Brazil variant is some sort of government conspiracy. At a personal level it is so difficult to get my head around all this given I not only lost my father to COVID but also five relatives and friends since January this year.
I get it, people are tired of lockdown and there is no denying the economic and mental health impact of the pandemic in the UK and beyond. I have struggled too and yet having experienced first hand the situation in Tanzania I am grateful to live in the UK, where the government is at least taking the virus seriously by leading the vaccination programme and providing financial support through the furlough and other schemes. The UK governments response hasn’t been perfect and I don’t want to detract from the difficulties people are facing – I just want to share a different perspective and recognise we have much to be grateful for in the UK.
Last week, Dorothy Gwajima the Health Minister held a press briefing that looked more like a poorly put together cooking programme. She blended a concoction of ginger, onions, lemon and pepper, and claimed this vegetable smoothie would ward off coronavirus. Imagine Matt Hancock pulling that stunt, would we stand for it? What is happening in Tanzania matters. The government stopped testing for COVID in April 2020 and last updated its number of infections at 509 cases. The Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention director, John Nkengasong said last week, “if we do not fight this [COVID] as a collective on the continent, we will be doomed”. I believe this applies to us in the UK and beyond. We live in a interconnected world with porous borders which the virus does not recognise. Given there aren’t any social distancing measures in place in Tanzania, one can’t help but wonder how the virus is mutating and whether it is a matter of time before the “Tanzanian variant” emerges potentially derailing the entire vaccination programme.
So, what can you do?
- Write to your MP – Magufuli’ s government will respond to international pressure especially if foreign aid is likely to be withheld.
- Email the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. You can contact them at email@example.com. The Minister for Africa is James Duddridge. We must hold our government to account.
- Share this blog or the Guardian article on your social media feed to help raise awareness of the crises in Tanzania.