Powerful piece from Kim Sanderson about COVID denial in Tanzania

I am incredibly grateful to North East Bylines for shining a light on Tanzania’s plight. Kim Sanderson’s piece ‘Hakuna COVID’ asks a fundamental question, why is the UK not intervening? We used to take pride in our diplomatic efforts to help bring about change. Like many in the UK, I tuned into the Commonwealth Day celebrations on Sunday on BBC1. The Tanzanian flag visible second from the left as The Prince of Wales spoke of the universal devastation caused by the Coronavirus Pandemic. I was urging him from my living room to go further and urge all 54 member states to respond jointly or encourage multilateral cooperation, especially member states who have yet to engage in in a collective approach. So much can be said without naming names and still have an impact. I feel like this was a missed opportunity, and a nation of 60-million citizens have been let down.

The Pope’s visit to #Iraq gives a dangerous narrative to #Magufuli.

According to Tanzania’s Catholic Church more than 25 priests and 60 nuns have recently died with COVID like symptoms. ‘COVID like’ because the Tanzanian President has of course claimed the country was cured of the coronavirus with prayer. Since the last reported cases in April 2020, there is no COVID testing on the mainland. The loss of lives is unforgivable, almost every Tanzanian is affected directly or indirectly. We should all care and be outraged by Magufuli’s actions. In Tanzania, there are no measures in place to cut transmission offering the virus a sanctuary to mutate and pose a very real threat to the vaccination programme.

Now, you may be thinking what has the Pope’s visit to Iraq got to do with Tanzania? Well, President Magufuli is a devout catholic and his visit inadvertently gives Magufuli’s mishandling of COVID in Tanzania credence. Since the start of the year, there has been a marked increase in people dying of “pneumonia” the codeword for COVID in Tanzania. In February during the funeral of his Chief Secretary, Magufuli said to mourners, “Maybe we have wronged God somewhere..” and declared three days of prayer, urging people to go to church and the mosque. I am convinced the deaths of the Tanzanian clergy are linked to the call to pray by Magufuli in February this year.

I have the utmost respect and admiration for the Pope and his vision for interfaith tolerance. I also recognise Christian minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere have suffered persecution. The Pope meeting Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is not only a historic moment but also symbolic to muslims and christians worldwide. Whilst I am certain the Iraqi and Vatican officials will take all necessary precautions, to a president [Magufuli] who has used religion and prayer to rid himself of responsibility, the Pope’s visit will be spun to validate negligent leadership. I just wish this important visit was delayed and it makes me very angry to think this historic visit will be spun by one of the most unchristian presidents to justify his criminal handling of COVID in Tanzania.

Letter to His Holiness, Pope Francis

I am writing to you to express my fears about the situation with regards to COVID-19 in Tanzania. The current government is denying the existence of COVID-19 and the President believes the country has been cured of the virus through prayer. President John Magufuli is a devout Christian and I know first-hand the power of prayer and comfort it can provide. His Holiness, you have been a strong advocate of the vaccine and even said recently refusal is akin to suicidal denialism. President Magufuli has refused to participate in the COVAX programme advocating herbal remedies instead. There has been some change in messaging from the Magufuli administration, after WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom issued a statement urging the President to share data and participate in the vaccination programme.

The situation in Tanzania goes beyond the issue of vaccinations. The codeword for COVID in Tanzania “pneumonia” and since January of this year, I have lost five friends and relatives including my father, none of them were tested for COVID and received steam therapy along with antibiotics and steroids, in hope that something would work. Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world and as it stands 60-million Tanzanians are at risk. There is an urgent need for testing, PPE for medical staff and a coordinated public health education campaign. I am writing to ask for your help in engaging President Magufuli and to connect with him as a Christian to reconsider his approach to COVID in Tanzania.

Please note: this is a copy of the letter sent by postal mail to His Holiness.

Tanzanians need help to tackle COVID-19

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?

A helpless daughter…

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. I am a Tanzanian living in the UK. I am riddled with guilt for living in a developed country with healthcare and a COVID-19 vaccination programme. I am sharing my story and that of friends and family in Tanzania, people are afraid to speak out against President Magufuli as they watch their loved ones die. Magufuli’s government is denying the existence of COVID-19 and the propaganda in the country is the virus has been cured through prayer with Tanzania being free of the Corona Virus. Tanzania is one of the worlds poorest countries and I recognise the comfort prayer can provide. This is why I believe Tanzania needs prayer and science to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

President John Magufuli has continued to play down the seriousness of the disease even as neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Uganda have closed borders and implemented lockdowns. 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. The Tanzanian authorities have refused to participate in the COVAX programme dismissing vaccines and instead advocating herbal remedies. Dr. Tedros Adhanom, Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said, “we will not end the pandemic anywhere unless we end it everywhere”.

Please help, share the plight of Tanzanians on social media, write to your MP, contact your church (President Magufuli is a devout Christian) – anything! The lives of nearly 60 million citizens are at risk not to mention the economic cost that will plunge millions into further poverty. In speaking out for the plight of Tanzanians we are making sure we take a collective approach to bringing the COVID-19 crises to an end.

Please do also follow me on Twitter @VaccineTanzania